Five people have died and nearly 200 people from nearly three dozen states have been sickened by E. coli in a growing outbreak that has so far stumped federal investigators.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the death tally Friday, more than two months after the first illnesses occurred in mid-March. Although investigators have determined that E. coli came from contaminated romaine lettuce that were grown in Arizona's Yuma region near the border to Southern California, the Food and Drug Administration has not been able to link the outbreak to one farm, processor or distributor, Scott Gottlieb, the agency's commissioner, and Stephen Ostroff, the deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an update Thursday.
With the tainted vegetables now off the shelves and the growing season over, the FDA may never crack the case, frustrating consumer advocates who have called on the agency to issue rules that would speed up future investigations of foodborne illnesses, The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey reported.
The CDC said 197 people have been sickened, nearly half of whom were hospitalized. Some told officials that they did not eat romaine lettuce but became sick after close contact with someone who ate contaminated vegetables, the CDC said. Twenty-six developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that can be life-threatening to people with weak immune systems, such as young children and the elderly.
A majority of those who have been affected come from California, where one death was reported, and Pennsylvania. The four other deaths were reported in Arkansas, Minnesota and New York, according to the CDC.
Last month, the Canadian government announced that six of its citizens were also sickened with Escherichia coli with “similar genetic fingerprint” with those reported in the United States. Two of the six told officials that they traveled across the border before they became sick. Three became infected in Canada. Canadian officials, though, said that the risk to their citizens are low.
The FDA initially said that only bagged and pre-chopped romaine lettuce that have been distributed to retailers across the country were contaminated with E. coli, but a group of inmates at a prison in Alaska also became sick after eating whole-head lettuce..