According to Seattle-based Marler Clark, ten confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection found in north Thurston and south Pierce counties have been traced to bagged, commercial romaine lettuce, commonly used in food service (not sold retail). The Washington State Health Department says four cases of infection with the highly toxic E. coli O157:H7 were identified in Thurston County, and six in Pierce County. Some of the victims were hospitalized. All had eaten salad at different locations, indicating that those locations probably got their lettuce from a single source.
The Marler blog says "the investigation has narrowed to three produce distributors which source from California."
"While the source of the romaine is unknown, at this time of year it is likely to have come from the Salinas Valley," says Dennis Donohue, chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Salinas mayor, according to a report in The Salinas Californian.
Donohue told the newspaper that 60 to 70% of romaine lettuce annually comes from the Salinas Valley, but in May nearly all the nation's romaine was grown here. But he stressed "everything is still speculative."
"E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with leafy greens such as lettuce are by no means a new phenomenon," food borne illness attorney William Marler says on his blog, www.marlerblog.com. "Many might remember the spinach outbreak in 2006, which sickened more than 200 people, but the FDA has reported that in the last 12 years, 22 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks have been linked to consumption of contaminated leafy greens, and more than 700 consumers have been made ill -- some gravely so."
E. coli is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of food borne E. coli outbreaks has been traced to contaminated ground beef; however leafy vegetables that have been contaminated in fields or during processing have been increasingly identified as the source of outbreaks, as have unpasteurized milk and cheese, unpasteurized apple juice and cider, alfalfa and radish sprouts, orange juice, and even water.
The first symptom of E. coli infection is the onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by bloody diarrhea. This is hemorrhagic colitis, and it typically occurs within 2 to 5 days of ingestion of E. coli; however the incubation period -- the time between the ingestion of E. coli bacteria and the onset of illness -- may be as broad as 1 to 10 days.
"An E. coli infection can make you very, very sick," Marler continued, "In some instances, E. coli infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a cause of acute kidney failure, so visit your doctor and make sure you know what you're dealing with."
Detailed information on E. coli infection, symptoms, and treatment can be found at www.about-ecoli.com.