More than 100 people in six states, including 17 in Georgia, have most likely become ill from E. coli from ground beef, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
While officials have not yet identified a common supplier, distributor, brand or other source of the outbreak, the 109 people who've gotten sick all ate ground beef products in restaurants or in their homes, the CDC said.
The multistate investigation began March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified CDC of this outbreak. In interviews with people who'd become ill, 84% said within the week prior they purchased or ate ground beef from several different grocery stores and restaurants.
"Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joe," the CDC reported. "Traceback investigations are ongoing to determine the source of ground beef supplied to grocery stores and restaurants where ill people ate."
The CDC recommends consumers make sure beef is cooked properly to at least 160 degrees. Consumers are not being asked to avoid beef products.
"Consumers and restaurants should always handle and cook ground beef safely to avoid foodborne illness. Thoroughly cook ground beef and any food that contains ground beef to kill germs," the CDC says. "Wash hands with soap and water after touching raw ground beef. Use hot, soapy water or a bleach solution to wash kitchen items that touched raw meat."
Officials say more victims could emerge because illnesses that occurred after March 20 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported.
Three people in Georgia have been hospitalized, but no deaths or cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, have been reported.
“Most people recover from E. coli O103 infections within a week, but some illnesses last longer and can be more severe, resulting in a type of kidney failure,” said chief science officer and state epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek. “It is crucial that the public understands how serious E. coli O103 infections can be, and to heed all recommended precautions about handwashing and food preparation.”
Sickeness comes between three to four days after consuming the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli germ. Symptoms often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting and usually lasts five to seven days.
Antibiotics are not recommended for patients with suspected E. coli infections until diagnostic testing can be performed and infection is ruled out. Some studies have shown that administering antibiotics to patients with E. coli infections might increase their risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, and a benefit of treatment has not been clearly demonstrated.