According to the CDC, as of May 15, 2018, 172 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 32 states. Alaska (8), Arizona (8), California (39), Colorado (3), Connecticut (2), Florida (1), Georgia (4), Idaho (11), Illinois (2), Iowa (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (3), Michigan (5), Minnesota (12), Mississippi (1), Missouri (1), Montana (8), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (8), New York (5), North Dakota (2), Ohio (6), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (21), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (3), Texas (1), Utah (1), Virginia (1), Washington (7), and Wisconsin (3).
Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 13, 2018 to May 2, 2018.
Ill people range in age from 1 to 88 years, with a median age of 29. Sixty-five percent of ill people are female. Of 157 people with information available, 75 (48%) have been hospitalized, including 20 people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.
One death was reported from California.
Illnesses that occurred after April 21, 2018, 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. This takes an average of two to three weeks.
According to the FDA, the last shipments of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16, 2018, and the harvest season is over. It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in people’s homes, stores, or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life. The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples’ homes.
The FDA has identified Harrison Farms of Yuma, Arizona, as the grower and sole source of the whole-head romaine lettuce that sickened several people in an Alaskan correctional facility, but has not determined where in the supply chain the contamination occurred.
The traceback investigation indicates that the illnesses associated with this outbreak cannot be explained by a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. While traceback continues, the FDA will focus on trying to identify factors that contributed to contamination of romaine across multiple supply chains. The agency is examining all possibilities, including that contamination may have occurred at any point along the growing, harvesting, packaging, and distribution chain before reaching consumers.
As I said to Time yesterday:
William Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food safety, is representing Fitzgerald and her son, as well as 86 other people who have been sickened in the current outbreak. He has six cases open at the moment, against establishments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and California, including Panera Bread and Red Lobster. The goal, he says, is to work backward by suing restaurants that have sold tainted products, in hopes of learning who supplied the lettuce to these eateries. Marler says this strategy has brought him to Freshway, a supplier serving the Midwest and East Coast, and ideally will lead him to the as-yet-unidentified farm or farms in Yuma, Ariz., that are responsible for the outbreak.
“I’m the Mueller of the E. coli outbreak,” Marler says. “It’s a process not dissimilar to a prosecuting attorney working their way toward the Oval Office.”