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March 3, 2021

Solving the mysterious cause of the E. coli outbreak

By BAYLEIGH MURRAY | April 18, 2019




Investigators found that ground beef was the cause of the mysterious wave of E. coli outbreak.

On April 5, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 72 people in five different states were ill as the result of a multistate outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) with no confirmed cause. Now the outbreak has spread to at least 109 individuals, and the CDC reports that the source is most likely ground beef. 

E. coli are a family of bacteria that are found naturally in foods, the environment and the digestive systems of humans and animals. 

Many of these strains are innocuous, but virulent strains can cause bacterial infections with symptoms appearing three to four days after the bacteria is consumed. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea.

After developing an E. coli infection, most individuals get better within five to seven days and may not require antibiotics. 

According to the first CDC report, eight people affected by the outbreak were hospitalized, with no reported deaths. The outbreak began with sick individuals reporting their symptoms on March 2. The patients included individuals between the ages of one and 74 years old, and the CDC suspected that other illnesses related to the outbreak may not have been reported. 

The CDC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state and national health departments all began investigating the outbreak, which was then restricted to five states: Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. 

Since April 12, the outbreak has spread to Indiana, and a total of 17 patients have now been hospitalized. 

To learn the cause of the outbreak, the CDC urged anyone concerned about a possible E. coli infection to talk to their health-care provider and begin writing down everything they ate the week before the first symptoms appeared. They also suggested taking preventative measures including regular handwashing, proper hygiene and cooking meat at appropriate temperatures. 

The CDC interviewed several individuals and found that 84 percent of the patients interviewed reported eating ground beef the week before developing symptoms. 

In their outbreak report, the CDC explained how they narrowed down the source of the outbreak. 

“Ill people in this outbreak report eating ground beef at home and in restaurants,” the CDC said in their investigation report.

No recall notice has been issued by the CDC because the contaminated meat has not been tracked to a single distributor or brand of ground beef. Because of this the CDC has not made recommendations that consumers or restaurants avoid ground beef. 

However, as federal and state health officials continue to investigate the outbreak, they still advise thorough handwashing, separating raw and cooked beef, and measuring the internal temperature of the beef with a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. 

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