5 die in US after eating E. coli-tainted lettuce

Five Americans have died and 197 people from 35 states have fallen ill in an Escherichia coli (E. coli) outbreak from contaminated romaine lettuce (pictured) grown in Arizona’s Yuma region.

The deaths have been reported from Arkansas (1), California (1), Minnesota (2), and New York (1). Some 68% of those affected are female. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illness started on March 13.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration was unable to trace the producers, distributors or processing facilities in the food chain the contaminated lettuces came from. Product labels often do not identify the regions they come from.

While chopped and bagged lettuces were initially thought to be contaminated with E. coli, reports from Alaska said some people fell sick after eating whole-head lettuces.

Some patients being treated for E. coli infection said they did not eat romaine lettuce but fell ill after coming in contact with people who ate contaminated vegetables.

In Canada, six people were infected with E. coli after eating contaminated romaine lettuce. Two of them got it from the US. The infections were reported in British Columbia (1), Alberta (1), Saskatchewan (2), and Ontario (2).

E. coli bacteria found in contaminated water, row milk, meat, fruits and vegetables are generally not harmful. But the virulent strain E. coli O157:H7 produces Shiga toxin which can cause kidney failure, diarrhoea and dehydration especially among children and old people with weak immune systems.

Three people had died and over 200 were affected in an E. coli outbreak from spinach in Salinas Valley, California, in 2006.