Oklahoma E coli Outbreak Sickens Nearly 300Sep 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The number of people involved in a restaurant-related outbreak of an uncommon strain of E. coli has risen to nearly 300. To date, there have been 291 cases of E. coli reported—227 adults and 36 children—with 67 who were hospitalized and 18 cases not yet identified. Sixteen of those hospitalized received kidney dialysis treatment and one man, 26-year-old Chad Engle—has died. Nine of the patients on dialysis were children.
Escheria coli has been blamed for the outbreaks. Some strains of E. coli, including those linked to food poisoning, such as E coli O157:H7, are very serious and can sometimes cause death. In food poisoning outbreaks involving E. coli, the deadly strain O157:H7 is generally always the culprit. While some strains of E. coli are necessary for digestion, some are harmful, even fatal, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 that is the culprit in this outbreak. Both strains are among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks. Oklahoma officials have said they believe the current outbreak is the largest involving strain E. coli O111 ever reported in United States history.
Most of those who fell ill from the rare E. coli strain ate at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove between August 15 and 17, according to the Oklahoma State Health Department (OSHD); however, a specific food source for the outbreak has not yet been identified, despite a massive interview undertaking that has involved over 1,700 people Right now, health officials are investigating a church event that was catered by the Country Cottage restaurant on August 16. At least 30 of the 250 people who attended the event at the Bethany Free Will Baptist Church in Broken Arrow reported falling ill with diarrhea and other symptoms. That portion of the investigation included the Tulsa Health Department and a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Meanwhile, Country Cottage, which is a buffet-style restaurant in business for over 22 years, has had 88 health department violations since 2004. The violations range from improper food storage to improper food temperatures. Cross contamination violations occurred in 2005 and 2006, according to health department reports. This type of contamination can take place when, for instance, a meat product is placed near a product such as eggs. Cross contamination was originally suspected in the oubreak; however, an OSDH official said last week that because investigators had not identified a specific food source, they believe that a staff member who handled many foods at the restaurant might have been infected and spread the contamination. The department said it did not plan to interview any more customers of the restaurant after September 12.