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Ohio E. Coli Outbreak Grows

Jun 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Last week we reported that six cases of E. coli infection had Ohio health officials concerned the cases were linked.  Now, a 55-year-old Delaware County woman who had been hospitalized for three days with an E. coli infection raises Ohio’s cases to seven since June 4.  This case, which occurred in Delaware County, is believed to be linked to, and is being investigated in collaboration with, the three Fairfield County cases and three Franklin County cases.

Although E. coli cases occur, that there were a number reported in the same week and in neighboring counties prompted health officials to work together to determine if there is one link.  Also of concern is the May 27 death of a Gahanna woman hospitalized with an E. coli infection that was diagnosed as the same E. coli strain as several Washington state residents whose illnesses were linked to lettuce.  Because the strain is common, no “definitive connection” could be made, according to Kristopher Weiss spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.  Once health officials receive more data, they might re-examine the older case to determine if the illnesses are linked, said Mitzi Kline, spokeswoman for the Franklin County Health Department.  Health officials have alerted hospitals to be “vigilant in testing stool for E. coli infection and reporting any infections,” LeMaile-Williams said.

In terms of sources, "nothing is sticking out to us right now," said Kevin Barlow, an epidemiologist with the Fairfield Department of Health.  Barlow suggested that in addition to preparing food more carefully, people should avoid swimming in bodies of water such as creeks and streams, particularly after heavy rain, which can contribute to contamination.

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and is normally harmless; however, some strains, including those linked to food poisoning, are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness.  About 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli each year and, last year alone, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

In the last two years, a variety of food pathogens have killed several people, sickened over 1,300 others, and touched nearly every state in the country as well as Canada.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are spreading into the greater population and several countries also now report cases of antibiotic-resistant E. coli.  Researchers compare the E. coli threat to the worldwide problem of community-acquired MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—an antibiotic-resistant staph developing resistance to the last drug of choice.  And, now, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.


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