E.Coli outbreak of 2018


Romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region is responsible for the E.Coli outbreak. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

Lucy Singer

On April 10, 2018, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made its initial announcement of an E.Coli 0157:H7 outbreak in multiple states. The illnesses started on March 22, affecting people of all ages. The number of people infected has been rising dramatically since the beginning of the outbreak.

The CDC disclosed that epidemiologic evidence indicated that the source of the outbreak was likely from chopped romaine lettuce on April 13. The evidence consisted of an interview of 28 people infected with the bacterium. Twenty-six of them reported eating romaine lettuce within the week before the onset of their illness.

On April 18, the CDC updated their initial announcement, revealing that the chopped romaine lettuce causing the E.Coli outbreak was from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

By May 15, it was reported that people in 32 states had been infected. The CDC has provided a resource to easily see how many people from which states have the illness. On the same day, the CDC announced that out of 157 infected people, 75 (48%) had been hospitalized, including 20 people who had developed a type of kidney failure, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) . 

A landscape of the Yuma, Arizona growing region. This region is responsible for producing the Romaine lettuce responsible for the outbreak. (Ryan Dingman/Flickr)

The strain of E.Coli that has infected many parts of the country is E.Coli 0157:H7. This a bacterium that produces toxins in the body, especially Shiga (Vero). Early symptoms of the illness includes fever, nausea, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. As the infection progresses, it causes symptoms such as nosebleeds, shortness of breath, seizures and excessive bleeding.

This strain of E.Coli is especially dangerous in children and the elderly because it can cause renal failure, anemia, dehydration, spontaneous bleeding, organ failure and mental changes (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or TTP).

Although most infections spontaneously resolve themselves without treatment, treatment is required if the patient develops HUS or TTP or becomes anemic or dehydrated.

Luckily, on May 16, the CDC stated that the last harvest season for romaine lettuce in the Yuma region has ended and that the last shipments of the infected romaine lettuce were harvested on April 16. Due to its 21-day shelf life, It is unlikely that there remains infected lettuce in people’s homes, stores or restaurants.