An E. coli outbreak with an as-yet unknown origin has reportedly sickened dozens of people across several states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prompting federal and state investigations into its cause.
The CDC said Friday that reports of individuals infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O103 began in early March. This week the CDC said the outbreak had affected 72 people across five states—Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia—with 17 percent of those individuals having been hospitalized.
The CDC reported 36 cases were in Kentucky, which currently has the highest number of reported cases linked to the outbreak. However, state officials said Friday that the figure had risen to 46, according to the Courier-Journal, meaning the CDC’s number may be slightly less the most recent figure of reported cases.
“Healthcare providers across Kentucky have been alerted to this potential threat and are working with us to make sure patients are identified and are receiving appropriate care,” Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Jeff Howard said in a statement last week. “Meanwhile, we encourage all Kentuckians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of E. coli illness and to seek care if they are ill.”
Barbara Fox, spokesperson for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Courier-Journal that state officials are working to identify potential overlap in the foods affected individuals may have eaten prior to becoming ill.
The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, as well as states, are currently looking into a potential origin for the outbreak. The CDC said it’s not advising against consumers eating—or against restaurants serving—any particular food for the time being.
The CDC said that those infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli typically start experiencing symptoms within days of ingesting it. Symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, though the CDC notes that symptoms can present differently depending on the individual. In most cases, people recover in about a week or less.[CDC]