The 2018 E. coli outbreak connected to tainted romaine lettuce has claimed its first death: a California resident. As the Washington Post reports, no further information about the person — their sex or age, for example — has been provided as of this writing.
The news came Wednesday via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also announced that the total number of people afflicted by this outbreak is up to 121 people in 25 states. That’s 23 more people and three more states — with Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Utah joining the ever-expanding list — than numbers that were announced last Friday.
According to Vox, the CDC remains at a loss as to how and where this particular E. coli began. The agency’s best estimates are that it began around Yuma, Arizona, where the winter months are more conducive to growing lettuce and other leafy greens. By this point in the year, lettuce production has shifted to central California. Considering that lettuce only has a shelf life of about two weeks or more, by this time the lettuce you see at your grocery store likely came from California. Still, the CDC warns, don’t buy or eat any romaine lettuce until you’re sure of its origin — at least, until further notice.
The fact that the CDC can’t nail down where this outbreak originated or how it spread is troubling to food safety lawyer Bill Marler.
“It’s 2018, and we’re basically a month into this outbreak, and they can’t link it to a farmer or a farm or a processor? I mean, candidly, that’s ridiculous.”
Marler notes that, following a 2006 E. coli outbreak involving baby spinach that killed three people and sickened nearly 200 others, the CDC made it a priority to be able to trace the origins of food-poisoning cases. And indeed, the CDC was able to track another, smaller E. coli outbreak from this year to a specific Yuma farm. That outbreak was limited to an Alaska prison.
As reported by the Inquisitr, this year’s outbreak is the largest since the 2006 spinach outbreak.
According to the CDC, most people who become infected with E. coli start showing symptoms about two to eight days after first ingesting it, with the average being three to four days. Those symptoms include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea that can be bloody.
Most people recover from E. coli on their own after a few days. However, in some people, such as children under five, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems, the disease can progress into a sometimes-fatal form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Signs of HUS include fatigue, decreased frequency of urination, and a loss of the normally pink color in the cheeks and inside the lower eyelids.