Public health officials investigating multi-county E. coli outbreak

E Coli

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Health is working with local health jurisdictions to respond to a multi-county outbreak of E. coli that might be linked to fresh produce.

There are currently six confirmed cases across Benton, King, Snohomish and Walla Walla counties. Three cases have been hospitalized and one has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can damage kidneys and other organs.

DOH is only reporting confirmed cases infected with bacteria that have been genetically linked, but local health officials may report higher numbers for their counties that include cases still under investigation.

DOH is coordinating with local health jurisdictions to identify cases related to the outbreak using genetic testing of the bacteria and investigating possible causes, which includes interviewing cases, looking for commonalities and working with local and federal partners to trace back foods that may have caused the illness.

These investigations sometimes lead to a definitive source of contamination or exposure, but it is not always possible to determine the cause. DOH will provide more information on the outbreak as it becomes available.

The bacteria normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Although most strains are harmless, some can cause illness by making Shiga toxin. Symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea, stomach cramps and blood in the stool. There is usually no fever.

“This outbreak is a reminder of the importance of food safety from farm to fork, especially fresh produce. We can all help reduce E. coli O157:H7 infections by washing our hands properly, scrubbing produce before eating, cooking foods thoroughly and choosing pasteurized milk products,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist. “E. coli O157:H7 infections can cause serious complications, so make sure to contact your health care provider right away if you notice symptoms, especially bloody diarrhea.”