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CDC reports ‘fast-moving’ E. coli outbreak in Michigan and Ohio

The headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (Ron Harris/AP)

A “fast-moving” E. coli outbreak in Michigan and Ohio has left 29 people ill and nine of them hospitalized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

In an urgent public announcement aimed at finding the source of the outbreak, the CDC said no deaths had occurred. No food source has been identified, the CDC said, meaning the number of people falling sick could increase. So far, 15 people in Michigan and 14 people in Ohio have been infected, the CDC said.

In a separate news release, Michigan’s health department said it had received 98 reports of E. coli cases this month — up from 20 in August last year. Natasha Bagdasarian, the chief medical executive at the department, said the “significant jump in cases is alarming.” The Ohio Department of Health said it is assisting federal and local health officials with investigations. The affected individuals range from age 11 to 72, it said.

Symptoms of E. coli can include diarrhea, fever, excessive vomiting and dehydration, according to the CDC. “If you have symptoms of E. coli, help us solve this outbreak: Write down what you ate in the week before you got sick” and report your case to health authorities, the CDC said in its notice.

It also urged people to practice proper food safety: washing hands, utensils and surfaces often, rinsing fruits and vegetables, keeping raw meat separate from other foods, using a food thermometer to ensure meats are cooked properly and refrigerating perishable foods. Most infections come from food sources, but E. coli can be spread from person to person in places with frequent, close contact.

People younger than 5 or older than 65 and those with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for severe illness, the CDC says.

Scientists say this E. coli won’t make you sick and could be good for the planet

E. coli are bacteria that can exist in the intestines of animals. Most E. coli are harmless, but some generate toxins that can kill humans, who usually contract them when eating contaminated food. About 265,000 people in the United States fall ill from E. coli-borne toxins each year, with 3,600 needing hospital care, the CDC says. About 30 people die of it annually.

The most recent publicized outbreak occurred late last year, when 10 people in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Ohio fell ill. One person died. In March, federal health officials declared the outbreak to be over. A federal investigation traced the outbreak to packaged salad products whose ingredients came from farms in Arizona and California.

Past outbreaks have been triggered by a variety of foods. Baby spinach and cake mix were behind two outbreaks reported by the CDC last year. Meat products such as ground beef were behind others in earlier years.

Why E. coli keeps getting into our lettuce

In 2018, 210 people across 36 states fell sick from an E. coli outbreak sparked by romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., resulting in five deaths and 96 hospitalizations. Federal health officials traced the E. coli to canal water samples from the Yuma region.

The following year, romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley in California infected 167 people in 27 states, resulting in 85 hospitalizations.