Georgia has 5 confirmed illnesses in the E. coli O145 outbreak that was recently announced, and has claimed the life of a young Louisianna girl. It has been reported that the 5 Georgia cases are from Cobb County (2), one each in Cherokee, Coweta and Forsyth counties.
Also, four of the five cases are female, and their ages range from 18 to 52. All of these people became ill between April 15 and April 28 2012. One of the Georgia cases was hospitalized. Press accounts also suggest that the Louisianna girl who died became ill in the same time frame as the Georgia cases.
So what does this information tell us, if anything? Well, it’s not much to go on, and apparently statistical analysis has not been effective, but a couple of things do jump out. Whether they end up being relevant or not, only time will tell. Oftentimes in produce-related (i.e. lettuce or spinach) outbreaks, there are more women than men involved. And often in produce outbreaks, the age range of those women is teenager or young adult to middle-aged women. For example, in last fall’s E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Schnuck’s and Vaughan’s romaine lettuce, 59% of the confirmed cases were female, and the median age was 28.
The window for exposure to the contaminated product appears to have been only a couple of weeks. All Georgia cases became ill in the last 2 weeks of April, and press reports indicate that the Louisianna toddler did too. Produce items like leafy greens have a limited shelf life of 2 to 3 weeks. For example, in the Freshway romaine lettuce E. coli O145 outbreak from 2010, people became ill between April 10 and 26. In all the accounts I have seen to date, there do not appear to be any confirmed illnesses falling outside of this time window.
Are these circumstances just coincidence? Perhaps. Maybe the demographics of this outbreak really don’t tell us anything, and maybe the Freshway lettuce outbreak involving the same bug at almost the exact same time of year in 2010 is not any kind of a valuable comparison. Again, only time and the CDC can tell for sure.