Authorities have tracked down an outbreak of E. coli to a chain restaurant, and are conducting test to see if it is the cause.
A major outbreak of E. coli in four New Jersey counties have officials scrambling to get a handle on the developing situation. A total of eight cases have been reported involving the potentially deadly disease, and officials think they may stem from a single chain restaurant.
Specifically, authorities reportedly are concerned that a single Panera Bread location may be ground zero of the outbreak of E. coli, but they are not quite sure and more investigation will be required. They are conducting laboratory tests to be sure after eight people were hospitalized, five of whom have since been discharged.
E. coli is a potentially seriously illness, but most healthy people will get better without treatment within a week. The elderly, very young, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk from the disease, which can cause blood in the stool, high fever, and significant vomiting.
The full statement from the New Jersey Department of Health follows below.
The Department of Health is in the preliminary stages of an investigation into eight cases of E. coli in four counties. The Department is investigating a possible association with a chain restaurant, but the association may be broader than a single chain restaurant. The Department is in the process of gathering food history data from those who became ill.
The NJ Department of Health is still awaiting lab tests to determine if the strain of E Coli bacteria (there are many) match. The CDC will then conduct confirmatory tests. To date, eight people have been hospitalized and five of those individuals have been discharged. While those who are infected with E. Coli usually get better by themselves within about 5 to 7 days, some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening. We encourage people to contact their health care provider if they have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that they cannot keep liquids down and they pass very little urine. In addition, about 5 to 10% of people who are diagnosed with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS develops about 7 days after symptoms first appear, when diarrhea is improving. Clues that someone is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Any who develop these symptoms should seek out medical care.
It can be very difficult to determine where someone got sick. Individuals could have eaten a number of meals in a number of places before becoming ill. They could have eaten at several restaurants, at home or eaten food purchased at a supermarket. Sometimes the food source associated with illness is never determined. That’s why we conduct many interviews with sick individuals to get food history data and work with food safety officials to investigate food sources. There are two parts to the investigation:
1. State lab tests are being done to determine if the strains of E Coli match; then the CDC does confirmatory tests.
2. Investigating to try to determine the common food source that made people sick. We’re working with the FDA district office in New Jersey and our own investigators to trace back sources of food the individuals may have eaten as well as looking at records such as invoices of vouchers of food deliveries made to any of the restaurants that may be part of the investigation.
We are working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CDC, and local health departments on this continuing investigation. As more information becomes available, we will provide that to the public. The 4 counties are Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren. The case breakdown is 4 in Hunterdon, 1 Warren, 1 Middlesex and 2 in Somerset.
The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the disease.
Escherichia coli is a Gram-negative, facultatively anaerobic, rod-shaped, coliform bacterium of the genus Escherichia that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms (endotherms). Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some serotypes can cause serious food poisoning in their hosts, and are occasionally responsible for product recalls due to food contamination. The harmless strains are part of the normal flora of the gut, and can benefit their hosts by producing vitamin K2, and preventing colonization of the intestine with pathogenic bacteria, having a symbiotic relationship. E. coli is expelled into the environment within fecal matter. The bacterium grows massively in fresh fecal matter under aerobic conditions for 3 days, but its numbers decline slowly afterwards.
E. coli and other facultative anaerobes constitute about 0.1% of gut flora, and fecal–oral transmission is the major route through which pathogenic strains of the bacterium cause disease. Cells are able to survive outside the body for a limited amount of time, which makes them potential indicator organisms to test environmental samples for fecal contamination. A growing body of research, though, has examined environmentally persistent E. coli which can survive for extended periods outside a host.
The bacterium can be grown and cultured easily and inexpensively in a laboratory setting, and has been intensively investigated for over 60 years. E. coli is a chemoheterotroph whose chemically defined medium must include a source of carbon and energy. E. coli is the most widely studied prokaryotic model organism, and an important species in the fields of biotechnology and microbiology, where it has served as the host organism for the majority of work with recombinant DNA. Under favorable conditions, it takes up to 20 minutes to reproduce.