Oklahoma Health Department to Issue Report on Historic E. coli OutbreakSep 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
As part of an investigation into the nation’s largest E. coli O111 outbreak in history, the Oklahoma state Health Department continues to solicit interviews from people connected to the deadly outbreak that has sickened over 200, killed one, and is believed to have started at a buffet restaurant in Locust Grove. Strain O111 is a particularly rare, yet potentially fatal and very dangerous strain of E. coli. "In our efforts to establish if there is an association with particular food items and illness, we will be interviewing more persons to find those who ate at the Country Cottage and did not become ill," said State Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley.
State officials are looking to interview anyone who ate at the Country Cottage restaurant between August 15 and 17, even if they did not later become ill. The information being solicited will be used in a report on the outbreak, which the state Health Department said will be released by week's end and is expected to identify a source in the bacterial contamination. State health workers have also been testing countertops and foods at the restaurant as they work to locate the origin of the E. coli infection. To date, the state has interviewed 1,300 people.
Currently, three Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workers are in Oklahoma assisting with the state's outbreak investigation and state officials said Country Cottage is the sole focus of their investigation. Country Cottage remains closed, and it is unclear if it will reopen, said Amanda Clinton, Country Cottage spokeswoman. Most of those who fell ill reported having eaten at Country Cottage before getting sick, according to the state. About 50 people were hospitalized at the outbreak’s high point. Right now, the number of hospitalizations has dropped to about 20, according to state Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley. Some of the patients still hospitalized are undergoing treatment for organ failure, and several are children.
The Associated Press recently reported that during an August 23 surprise inspection at the Country Cottage restaurant, nine health code violations were identified. Despite this, Country Cottage remained open on August 24, the day the one related death occurred.
E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. Some strains of Escherichia coli are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly. The CDC identified a very rare and toxin-producing strain of E. coli—E. coli O111—in stool samples taken from victims of this outbreak. According to the state Health Department, E. coli O111 has only been “implicated in three other disease outbreaks in the United States.” Among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death are a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC); E. coli O111 is in this group of virulent, potentially deadly E. coli strains. In most E. coli-related outbreaks, the virulent, sometimes deadly, E. coli O157:H7—also one of the VTEC strains—is generally to blame. That is not the case in this outbreak, which represents the largest E. coli O111 outbreak in U.S. history.