Health Department Identifies More E. coli 0157:H7 Cases

For Immediate Release: Oct. 15, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - Health officials are again warning Vermonters not to eat undercooked meat after a ninth person was confirmed to be ill with E. coli 0157:H7 infection, and a 10th suspected case has been reported.

To date, eight of the confirmed cases — including a child who was hospitalized, but has been released — had E. coli 0157:H7 with an exact DNA match confirmed by the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory.

“Our laboratory results tell us that each person became ill from the same source,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist Susan Schoenfeld. “And our epidemiology investigation has found that source to be ground beef that was contaminated before it was distributed to, prepared, and served at a few restaurants in Vermont.”

The Health Department has alerted health care providers statewide to be on the lookout for any new cases, and is working closely with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to further investigate product processing and distribution. Health Department inspectors are working with the restaurants involved. All of the restaurants have changed their beef supply until the investigation is completed. It is possible, however, that distribution extended beyond these restaurants. The beef has NOT been available for sale in stores.

“Fortunately, all of the people that we know of who were ill are recovering,” said Schoenfeld. “It’s important to remember that eating undercooked meat — as well as consuming raw milk products — is always a risk for E. coli and other bacteria that can cause severe illness, especially in young children, the elderly or people with serious medical conditions.”

Consumers should only eat ground beef or ground beef patties that have been cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160º F. Color is NOT a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7. The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. For a food safety fact sheet from USDA focusing on ground beef, go to : http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Ground_Beef_and_Food_Safety/index.asp

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

E. coli are coliform bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but several are known to produce toxins that can cause illness. E. coli 0157:H7 is a strain that can cause a range of symptoms, from mild illness to severe diarrhea, kidney damage and kidney failure.

Anyone experiencing severe abdominal symptoms (diarrhea, bloody stool, cramping, vomiting) should seek medical attention right away. Physicians have been asked to report suspected cases of E. coli 0157:H7 to the Vermont Department of Health.

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