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CDC suspects ground beef source of 6-state E. coli outbreak

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CDC suspects ground beef source of 6-state E. coli outbreak

Health officials say ground beef is the likely source of a food poisoning outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people in six states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said no common supplier, distributor or brand of the meat has been identified.

The CDC says people can continue to eat ground beef. The meat should be cooked thoroughly to 160 degrees to kill germs.

The outbreak started in early March. So far, 109 people have been infected with E. coli O103, an unusual strain of the bacteria. They reported eating ground beef at home and at restaurants. 

Seventeen people have been hospitalized. No one has died. Half of the cases are in Kentucky. The others are Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. 

It is the third-largest multi-state  E. coli outbreak reported in 20 years, the CDC said.

Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.

While many strains of E. coli are harmless, others can cause illness following contamination of foods. 

Over the past year, E. coli prompted widespread recalls of romaine lettuce, but that outbreak was declared over in January. Other foods that have been involved in E. coli outbreaks in the past include spinach, ground beef and flour. 

People typically get sick from E. coli two to eight days after swallowing the germ. Symptoms include diarrhea, which can be bloody, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. 

E. coli infections typically clear up within a week, but more serious cases can lead to a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, pale skin tone, fatigue and irritability, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth, and decreased urination. These complications are more common in young children under 5, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

The CDC recommends the following steps to reduce the risk of E. coli infections:

  • Wash hands frequently, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145˚F. Let rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove. Cook ground beef and pork to at least 160˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Don’t prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.

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