The Washtenaw County Public Health is investigating 10 cases of a food-related illness possibly caused by E. coli, health officials said Monday.
"We are in the early stages of our investigation, and we are doing everything we can to identify probable cases and to prevent any additional illness," Dr. Diana Torres-Burgos, the county’s medical director, said in a statement.
Officials are working to identify the strain of bacteria responsible, she said. It wasn’t yet known if the illness was linked to a single location or food source. The Health Department didn’t release other details Monday night.
Not everything is known yet about this cluster. Is it just a cluster, or is it an outbreak–i.e. is there a common point or source of contamination? What is the strain of E. coli involved? Is it the infamous E. coli O157:H7, or is it another strain of shiga-toxin producing escherichia coli (or STEC)? Or is it even STEC at all; I don’t see any references to hemolytic uremic syndrome in the reports about those who are ill.
So clearly, this is a developing situation where public health needs to, and is, acting proactively and quickly. Part of an investigator’s job is to collect and analyze data. This cannot happen, however, unless the relevant data is obtained–meaning specifically that doctors need to be testing individuals with diarrheal illness–and definitely people with bloody diarrhea–for shiga toxins and other strains of E. coli. And of course, doctors can’t test if there are no samples available to analyze. This means that, whenever possible, people in Washtenaw county especially need to be seen by their doctors when suffering from a diarrheal illness. Data is knowledge, and knowledge is king in the investigation of foodpoisoning outbreaks.