Rare E. Coli O111 Outbreak in Oklahoma Officially Over, Investigation ContinuesSep 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP According to health officials, the massive E. coli O111 outbreak in Oklahoma is over; however, the investigation continues. The outbreak is the largest of its kind in United States history. "We've turned a corner," said Leslea Bennett-Webb, Oklahoma State Department of Health spokeswoman. "We're still investigating. But we really wanted the folks in Locust Grove to know that it's over, so maybe they can get back to normal. We've taken this so very serious because we had one death and so many people seriously ill, and a community that has been fearful," Bennett-Webb said. "It's been a challenge."
The last known person associated with the outbreak fell ill September 6, she said. "We may find new cases that haven't been reported, but there are no new occurrences," Bennett-Webb said.
At least 314 people were sickened from E. coli O111, a rare and virulent strain of the bacteria, officials said. One man—Chad Lange, age 26—died from the illness. "We know with absolute certainty this is the largest E. coli O111 outbreak ever in the U.S.," Bennett-Webb said. Of the 314 sickened, 65 were children and 72 people were hospitalized; 17 received kidney dialysis, officials said. State health investigators interviewed 1,843 people.
State officials also confirmed the outbreak was only linked to the Country Cottage restaurant. "Virtually all known cases ate at or had an association with Country Cottage," Bennett-Webb said. To date, only one case of secondary infection through household contact with someone who ate at the Country Cottage has been confirmed, she said. "We are investigating the incubation period of a few more cases to determine if they might also be secondary infections," Bennett-Webb said.
Officials continue investigating to determine the outbreak’s exact food source, which has yet to be determined. The team of three federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deployed to assist in the investigation is expected to return to Atlanta in the next few days and will continue to help with the case. "We're still looking at food choice selections based on those more than 1,800 interviews," Bennett-Webb said. "We're looking at dates and food choices for those who got sick versus those who didn't." The information from all the interviews are entered into a database, and analysis of those interviews could take several weeks, she said.
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 that is the culprit in this case. Typically, the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain is generally found to be responsible in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks; both deadly strains are among those that may cause serious disease and death and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC), linked to food poisoning. VTECs are very serious 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.