Think E.coli only exists in beef? Think again

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E.coli

New research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that Escherichia coli O157:H7 has caused more outbreaks in the U.S. from 2003 through 2012 than during the previous 20 years and that beef—often thought of as the main culprit of infection— was only related with 20% of the outbreaks associated with food.

Published in the August edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the report states that in total, 390 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks occurred nationally during the 10-year period. In 65% of those, a total of 255 incidents, food was the transmission source. Animal and person-to-person contact were each responsible for 39 outbreaks, water for 15, and, in 42 cases, the source was other or unknown.

Historically, E.coli 0157:H7 outbreaks peak in the summer months as food is more likely to be left at unsafe temperatures or not fully cooked at barbeques and other typical summer gatherings. However, in the period of 2003 to 2012, the study also found that summers did not see multiple beef-related O157 outbreaks like they had previously.

Instead, during those 10 years, the study identified several other foods that were sources of outbreaks, including poultry, other meat, dairy, leafy vegetables, fruits, sprouts, nuts and other foods—which is a very long list in itself including—prepared guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa, potato salad, cooking dough, baked beans, meatballs, lamb, lime and bean dip, macaroni, Mexican wheat snacks, seafood, vegetable-based salad, pepperoni, jerky, and others.

From the outbreaks identified the study found they were associated with “4,928 illnesses, 1,272 hospitalizations, and 33 deaths,” the authors wrote. Physician-diagnosed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure, occurred in 299 cases.

While the authors said that beef is obviously still a major source of E.coli outbreaks—they also found that the outbreaks associated with other transmission sources may be more severe than those related to beef.

“Our findings that outbreaks attributed to leafy vegetables, dairy products, fruits and other meats were more severe than outbreaks attributed to beef could have several explanations, including strain virulence and patient age and sex,” they wrote.

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