E. Coli Outbreak Associated With Romaine Lettuce Still Active

May 9, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement last week saying the E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce is still active. As of May 2, there had been 121 cases of reported E. coli infection in 25 states. One person in California has died, 52 people have been hospitalized. The total number could be higher because it can take an average of two to three weeks for illnesses to be reported to the CDC. The outbreak began on April 21, 2018.

This isn’t the first time produce sold in stores or served in restaurants has caused an E. coli outbreak. In 2006, one was caused by contaminated spinach. This outbreak affected 199 people, 31 of whom developed kidney failure. Three people died.

E. coli infection can lead to serious illness, including kidney failure. This particular outbreak was tracked down to contaminated romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. The CDC is advising that people not consume, and restaurants and stores not serve or sell romaine lettuce from this region or if they don’t know where it was grown. Romaine lettuce is commonly used in salads, but it can also be used in other dishes, such as wraps because of the large broad leaves.

E. coli infection can be caused by a number of bacteria, but this outbreak is caused by a toxin called Shiga, also called STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli), Verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). This type is the one most often associated with foodborne E. coli outbreaks.

The intensity of symptoms can vary, but they usually include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. There may be a low-grade fever as well. Most people do recover within a week, but some can go on to become seriously ill and develop kidney failure. Although anyone can become ill, people at highest risk include pregnant women, children (especially newborns), older adults, and those who have weakened immune systems.

Read more about intestinal E. coli infections, including how to reduce your risk, here: Sepsis and Intestinal E. Coli Infections.