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Oklahoma E. Coli Outbreak is Out of Control

Aug 28, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Oklahoma state health officials are finally able to confirm that a type of E. coli bacteria has been found in 10 of the patients who were sickened by a severe illness in northeastern Oklahoma.  The E. coli outbreak has taken the life of one man—26-year-old Chad Ingle—and has caused the hospitalizations of at least 41 others and dozens more have reported being ill. Patients are reporting symptoms of food poisoning along with a very severe and bloody form of diarrhea Also, a number of children are undergoing dialysis due to kidney failure as a result of their illnesses.  The illness has been characterized as a “severe illness outbreak.”

Ingle was discharged from Tulsa's St. Francis Hospital last Friday after becoming sick on Wednesday, he returned to the hospital the following morning when his condition worsened; he died soon after.

Laboratory specimens are scheduled to be sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for further analysis.  Health officials report that many who became sick ate at the Country Cottage restaurant located in Locust Grove; however, the Country Cottage has not yet been pinpointed as the outbreak’s origin.  While Country Cottage is normally closed on Mondays, it has been closed voluntarily since while the investigation continues.  Country Cottage passed a weekend inspection, according to health officials.

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, such as E coli O157:H7, are very serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In food poisoning outbreaks involving E. Coli, the deadly E coli strain O157:H7 is generally always the culprit.  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 annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

Scientists have expressed serious 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.

In addition to the spread of E. coli and the growing resistance of the infection to traditional medications, emerging data confirms that the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years later.  It was believed that once we recover from a food-related contamination that we are healed and the illness is gone.  According to recent research, these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years after the original illness was seemingly resolved.  As part of their studies, researchers found that some children who suffered severe cases of E. coli developed health problems later in life, such as kidney problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure; the health problems appeared as late as 10 to 20 years later.

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