SPRINGFIELD – An elderly woman from the Metro East area of Illinois is the second person in the state whose E. coli O157:H7 isolate matches the national outbreak associated with spinach consumption.
The onset of her illness was mid-September. The woman reported eating fresh bagged spinach before the national outbreak was announced on September 14. She purchased the spinach at a local grocery. She was hospitalized but did not get Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which is a form of kidney failure that can be associated with E. coli o157:H7, especially in the elderly and the very young. The spinach was unavailable for testing.
Last month, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, warned about the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, a specific strain of E. coli, in multiple states that was associated with the consumption of bagged spinach. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association joined together to reiterate their call to all grocery stores and restaurants in Illinois to help prevent E. Coli contamination by pulling spinach, and spinach-related products from shelves and menus. The Governor also sent a letter to members of the U-S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions asking they oppose a bill that would weaken the state’s ability to ensure food safety. Since then, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined the spinach implicated in the outbreak was grown in three counties in California: Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara, Dr. Whitaker advised spinach sold in local farm markets from local growers is safe to eat and is not part of the national outbreak.
“Although the FDA has identified the source of the contaminated spinach, we may still see cases of persons who ate the implicated spinach before it was identified,” said Dr. Whitaker. “Anyone who experiences symptoms of illness after eating fresh spinach or products containing spinach are urged to contact their health care provider and local health department.”
E. coli O157:H7 is a virulent strain compared to other strains of E. coli. It causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).
The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. To date, almost 200 cases of illness have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cases of HUS and one death.
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is working with the Centers for Disease Control laboratory to test persons suspected of being linked to the outbreak. Health care providers with suspect cases may submit stool specimens to the IDPH laboratory for testing after consulting with their local health department.