The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is working with local health jurisdictions to respond to a multi-county outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that may be linked to fresh produce.
The outbreak currently includes six confirmed cases across Benton County (1), King County (3), Snohomish County (1) and Walla Walla County (1). DOH is only reporting confirmed cases infected with bacteria that have been genetically linked, but local health officials may report higher numbers for their counties that include cases still under investigation.
There is one case in the outbreak between ages 0-9, two cases age 10-19, one case age 20-29, one age 30-39, and one case age 70-79. Three cases have been hospitalized and one case developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection that can damage the kidneys and other organs. The earliest case in the outbreak started having symptoms March 9, and the most recent case had symptoms starting April 21.
DOH is coordinating with local health jurisdictions to identify cases related to the outbreak using genetic testing of the bacteria and investigating possible causes. In this type of investigation, public health staff interview cases, look for commonalities and work with local and federal partners to trace back foods that may have caused the illness. These investigations sometimes lead to a definitive source of contamination or exposure, but it is not always possible to determine the cause. DOH will provide more information on the outbreak as it becomes available.
“This outbreak is a reminder of the importance of food safety from farm to fork, especially fresh produce. We can all help reduce E. coli O157:H7 infections by washing our hands properly, scrubbing produce before eating, cooking foods thoroughly and choosing pasteurized milk products,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist. “E. coli O157:H7 infections can cause serious complications, so make sure to contact your health care provider right away if you notice symptoms, especially bloody diarrhea.”