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Newest E. coli Outbreak Linked to Colorado Restaurant

Oct 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Laboratory results have just confirmed a strain of E. coli in nine of 16 recently reported cases of severe stomach ailments emerging out of Colorado, many of which have been linked to a Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich shop near the University of Colorado (UC) campus in Boulder.  Health officials, cooperating with restaurant management, closed the sandwich shop located at 1125 13th Street Tuesday evening.

The health department is investigating other possible bacteria sources, said Heath Harmon, communicable-disease division manager for the Boulder County health department.  Although not named, the strain of E. coli linked to the diseases is said to cause bloody diarrhea and other stomach problems, with the potential to cause kidney failure in children.  The infection also hit a sorority house last month.

Jimmy John’s was temporarily shut down as a precautionary measure; however, Chana Goussetis, spokeswoman for the health department, said the county isn’t sure if the restaurant is the E. coli source.  “Quite a few people who were sick had eaten at Jimmy John’s, but we’re not sure that is the source,” Goussetis said. “It was done to make sure no one else got sick.  All the food workers are getting tested, and we’re making sure there is new food.” While Jimmy John’s posted a statement indicating that the health department is working with other area restaurants to determine the source of the outbreak, Goussetis said her department is not working with any other restaurants regarding this E. coli outbreak.

Last week, the health department investigated a cluster of eight E. coli cases at UC. Of the eight, seven were students and one was a sorority adviser.  Most students were members of the same sorority, which UC officials declined to name. Goussetis said those cases were linked back to Jimmy John’s.  At least two of the victims have secured legal representation.  Goussetis confirmed the county is now investigating 17 cases of E. coli, but not all are linked to the restaurant.

The strain of E. coli bacteria is one of the most common, according to health officials; the key symptom is bloody diarrhea.  The strain can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, resulting in acute kidney failure and the bacteria can be transferred when people handle food after using the bathroom and not washing their hands.  According to the health department, there has been a rise in E. coli cases in Boulder County this year, with the county formerly averaging seven annual cases and now seeing 25 cases this year alone.  Goussetis confirmed that numbers are up statewide as well.

Some E. coli strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 and the more common toxin producing O157:H7.  Typically, the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 is found to be responsible in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks and is—along with O111—in groups called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) and Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), linked to food poisoning, that are very serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.

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