NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The number of confirmed E. coli infections in Tennessee has grown from 21 to 26, according to the latest counts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People typically become sick from E. coli two to five days after being infected. Symptoms include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting, and anyone experiencing these should see a doctor.
Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. John Dunn anticipates there will be more cases. While a common strain of E. coli – called 0157 – is a known culprit for making people sick, Dunn points out that the particular strain causing illness in this outbreak – known as 0103 – is rare.
“They’re similar organisms, and we think about the same types of exposures, typically,” says Dunn. “We’re thinking about things like ground beef and leafy greens, and other things that have caused outbreaks in the past.”
Young children, and people who are elderly or have weakened immune systems, are most at risk for developing complications from E. coli infection. The best ways to prevent it are regular hand washing, being vigilant about dining out, and choosing restaurants that have a good record for food safety.
Avoiding unpasteurized milk or juices can also reduce the risk of ingesting E. coli bacteria. The CDC is working with state public health officials to track down a specific food product, grocery store or restaurant that could potentially be the source of infections.
Dunn says for public health experts, figuring it out is time-consuming, because every infected person has to be tracked down and interviewed.
“So, E.coli is one of the reportable conditions in Tennessee, so when a laboratory or a provider gets a report of this particular type of E. coli, it gets reported to the state health department,” says Dunn. “And we investigate and follow up with the person that was ill, to talk to them about the things they did, the things they ate.”
Nearly one hundred people across five states – including Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia – have been infected with the 0103 strain of E. coli. Eleven people have been hospitalized.