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CDC: E.coli Cases Increase in Eastern U.S.

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As more people get sick, health officials are continuing the search for a common seller of ground beef linked to an E.coli outbreak that was first reported last month.

Ten states are now impacted by the outbreak. In the past two weeks -- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-- the number of people sickened has grown to 156. Dr. John Lanza at the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County says only 2-3 cases of that particular strain have been reported in the Sunshine State.

“There are hundreds of different types of E.coli, it’s not just one; and the ones that normally are present, we don’t have any problems – they’re harmless,” said Lanza. “But there are a few of them out there that can be transmitted from person to person via food and other ways, that can have significant medical effects.”

This particular strain – called E.coli 0103 – has led to people being hospitalized, but reportedly has not caused any serious illnesses. The most significant – E.coli 0157 – is the one that leads to severe kidney disease. Other, more common symptoms originate in the gastro-intestinal tract.

“Fever – usually low-grade – vomiting, usually a crampy diarrhea that’s frequent and it could be bloody,” Lanza says. “And anytime you have bloody diarrhea, you need to let your health care provider know about it. Because bloody diarrhea is a signature of significant infection.”

Kentucky remains the hardest hit state with 65 E.coli cases, up from the 53 reported by the CDC on April 12. The number patients in Tennessee now stands a 41 -- nearly double since two weeks ago.

While the CDC has identified the source of the outbreak as ground beef, it has yet to pinpoint a common supplier, distributor, or brand. In this CDC-produced video on food safety, the agency is looking for a common point of contamination, from farm to fork.

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Dr. John Lanza, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County.

“We review records collected from restaurants or stores, where sick people ate or shopped, said the voiceover.” And conduct inspections in restaurants and food production facilities, and on farms looking for food safety risks.”

When cooking ground beef, Dr. John Lanza says it’s important to know that it’s been handled a number of times before you purchased it, most notably in the grinding.

“When you grind something up, the meat comes in contact with many surfaces; and if any one of are contaminated from something that passed through previously, then that can be a real problem,” Lanza said.

And depending on your outlook and schedule, we’re either coming up on cookout season – or are in the middle of it. Lanza says extra care needs to be taken when firing up the grill, such as making sure the interior of the burger is at least 160 degrees.

“I would just encourage – for hamburgers at least – medium, medium-well,” said Lanza. “If you’re doing steaks, OK, you may be able to get by with a rare, medium-rare, something like that. From a public health point of view that’s what I would suggest, because of the fact that we have these kind of issues all the time. And it’s usually with ground beef.”

The thing about E.coli, says Lanza, is that it’s vital to make a no-doubt-about-it diagnosis before setting up a treatment protocol.

“In many cases, for E.coli at least, you don’t want to treat with antibiotics; because in many people, antibiotics just prolong the course of the disease,” said Lanza. “With E.coli and a couple of others, you want to make sure you exclude those bacteria before you give antibiotics.”

Besides the drug treatment, most doctors will tell E.coli patients to drink plenty of fluids; eat a very bland diet, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and get some rest. The siege, says Lanza, should be over in two or three days.

For more information, visit www.CDC.gov, and www.floridahealth.gov.