In the last week the CDC reported that it in conjunction with state health departments had identified 14 cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness among residents Maryland (3 cases), New Jersey (2 cases), North Carolina (1 case), Ohio (2 cases) and Pennsylvania (6 cases) linked to Sezltzer’s Lebanon Beef bologna produced by Palmyra Bolgna Products, Inc.  Hopefully, most will make a complete recorvery.  However, in some cases complications may occur:

Reactive Arthritis is the name used to describe an uncommon, but potentially debilitating group of symptoms that follows a gastrointestinal, genitourinary, or viral infection.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one disorder in a spectrum of common functional gastrointestinal disorders. Symptoms of IBS can include constipation, diarrhea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, abdominal pain, urgency, bloating, straining at stools, and a sense of incomplete evacuation.

Post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (D+HUS) is a severe, life-threatening complication that occurs in about 10 percent of those infected with E. coli O157:H7 or other Shiga toxin- (Stx-) producing E. coli.

E. coli O157:H7 was identified for the first time at the CDC in 1975, but it was not until seven years later, in 1982, that E. coli O157:H7 was conclusively determined to be a cause of enteric disease. Following outbreaks of foodborne illness that involved several cases of bloody diarrhea, E. coli O157:H7 was firmly associated with hemorrhagic colitis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 1999 that 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 occur each year in the United States. Approximately 2,000 people are hospitalized, and 60 people die as a direct result of E. coli O157:H7 infections and complications. The majority of infections are thought to be foodborne-related, although E.coli O157:H7 accounts for less than 1% of all foodborne illness.

E. coli O157:H7 bacteria are believed to mostly live in the intestines of cattle but have also been found in the intestines of chickens, deer, sheep, goats, and pigs. E. coli O157:H7 does not make the animals that carry it ill; the animals are merely the reservoir for the bacteria.

While the majority of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with E. coli O157:H7 have involved ground beef, such outbreaks have also involved unpasteurized apple and orange juice, unpasteurized milk, alfalfa sprouts, and water. An outbreak can also be caused by person-to-person transmission of the bacteria in homes and in settings like daycare centers, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 Infection

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Marler Clark’s E. coli lawyers developed this site to keep our clients up-to-date on current litigation being prosecuted by Marler Clark throughout the United States. The site is also a resource for Marler Clark co-counsel in E. coli cases, print and broadcast media who are working on stories about E. coli outbreaks and outbreak-related litigation, and potential clients who are researching Marler Clark in anticipation of filing an E. coli claim.

Click on image above to download Safety Guide. E. coli – www.about-ecoli.com

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are members of a large group of bacterial germs that inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and other warm-blooded animals (mammals, birds). More than 700 serotypes of E. coli have been identified. Their “O” and “H” antigens on their bodies and flagella distinguish the different E. coli serotypes, respectively. The E. coli serotypes that are responsible for the numerous reports of contaminated foods and beverages are those that produce Shiga toxin (Stx), so called because the toxin is virtually identical to that produced by another bacteria known as Shigella dysenteria type 1 (that also causes bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome [HUS] in emerging countries like Bangladesh) (Griffin & Tauxe, 1991, p. 60, 73).

The best-known and most notorious Stx-producing E. coli is E. coli O157:H7. It is important to remember that most kinds of E. coli bacteria do not cause disease in humans, indeed, some are beneficial, and some cause infections other than gastrointestinal infections, such urinary tract infections. Shiga toxin is one of the most potent toxins known to man, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists it as a potential bioterrorist agent (CDC, n.d.). It seems likely that DNA from Shiga toxin-producing Shigella bacteria was transferred by a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) to otherwise harmless E. coli bacteria, thereby providing them with the genetic material to produce Shiga toxin. Although E. coli O157:H7 is responsible for the majority of human illnesses attributed to E. coli, there are additional Stx-producing E. coli (e.g., E. coli O121:H19) that can also cause hemorrhagic colitis and post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (D+HUS). HUS is a syndrome that is defined by the trilogy of hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and acute kidney failure. Stx-producing E. coli organisms have several characteristics that make them so dangerous. They are hardy organisms that can survive several weeks on surfaces such as counter tops, and up to a year in some materials like compost. They have a very low infectious dose meaning that only a relatively small number of bacteria, less than 50, are needed “to set-up housekeeping” in a victim’s intestinal tract and cause infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year at least 2000 Americans are hospitalized, and about 60 die as a direct result of E. coli infections and its complications. A recent study estimated the annual cost of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to be $405 million (in 2003 dollars), which included $370 million for premature deaths, $30 million for medical care, and $5 million for lost productivity (Frenzen, Drake, and Angulo, 2005). E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a foodborne pathogen in 1982 during an investigation into an outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis (bloody diarrhea) associated with consumption of contaminated hamburgers (Riley, et al., 1983). The following year, Shiga toxin (Stx), produced by the then little-known E. coli O157:H7 was identified as the real culprit. In the ten years following the 1982 outbreak, approximately thirty E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks were recorded in the United States (Griffin & Tauxe, 1991). The actual number that occurred is probably much higher because E. coli O157:H7 infections did not become a reportable disease (required to be reported to public health authorities) until 1987 (Keene et al., 1991 p. 60, 73). As a result, only the most geographically concentrated outbreaks would have garnered enough attention to prompt further investigation (Keene et al., 1991 p. 583). It is important to note that only about 10% of infections occur in outbreaks, the rest are sporadic. The CDC has estimated that 85% of E. coli O157:H7 infections are foodborne in origin (Mead, et al., 1999). In fact, consumption of any food or beverage that becomes contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure can result in contracting the disease. Foods that have been sources of contamination include ground beef, venison, sausages, dried (non-cooked) salami, unpasteurized milk and cheese, unpasteurized apple juice and cider (Cody, et al., 1999), orange juice, alfalfa and radish sprouts (Breuer, et al., 2001), lettuce, spinach, and water (Friedman, et al., 1999).

E. coli bacteria: what are they, where did they come from, and why are some so dangerous?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are members of a large group of bacterial germs that inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and other warm blooded animals (mammals, birds). Newborns have a sterile alimentary tract which within two days becomes colonized with E. coli.

More than 700 serotypes of E. coli have been identified.  The different E. coli serotypes are distinguished by their “O” and “H” antigens on their bodies and flagella, respectively.  The E. coli serotypes that are responsible for the numerous reports of contaminated foods and beverages are those that produce Shiga toxin (Stx), so called because the toxin is virtually identical to that produced by another bacteria known as Shigella dysenteria type 1 (that also causes bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome [HUS] in emerging countries like Bangladesh) (Griffin & Tauxe, 1991, p. 60, 73). 

The best known and most notorious Stx-producing E. coli is E. coli O157:H7.  It is important to remember that most kinds of E. coli bacteria do not cause disease in humans, indeed, some are beneficial, and some cause infections other than gastrointestinal infections, such urinary tract infections.  This section deals specifically with Stx-producing E. coli, including specifically E. coli O157:H7.

Shiga toxin is one of the most potent toxins known to man, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists it as a potential bioterrorist agent (CDC, n.d.).  It seems likely that DNA from Shiga toxin-producing Shigella bacteria was transferred by a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) to otherwise harmless E. coli bacteria, thereby providing them with the genetic material to produce Shiga toxin.

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You cannot see it, taste it, or smell it. 250,000 E. coli O157:H7 (E. coli) bacteria will fit on the head of a pin.  Ten to 50 will kill your child or your grandmother.

More likely due the expertise of Children’s Hospitals, and other top medical centers around the country, deaths at times are avoided, however, often not before Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) nearly kills.  HUS, a complication from an E. coli infection, can cause severe damage to kidneys, intestines, and pancreas.  Falling into a coma and suffering further from cognitive impairment are all too common.

I’ve seen the inside of too many of those Intensive Care Units with families who are scared senseless as they watch their children or mother shutdown.  For 15 years, this has been my world.   When I was an undergraduate, I read Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle.  That book took the American public on a tour of the contaminated underbelly of the meat industry and they were sickened.  It led to the Pure Food & Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act, versions of which are still in place today.

Until 1993, I thought—because of those laws—that the United States had a safe and secure food supply. But, then came the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak.  It killed four, and sickened hundreds, including many who were gravely ill with HUS and related complications.  Many of those victims became my clients.

Once again, there was a public outcry for safe meat.  The Food Safety & Inspection Service responded by creating and aggressively enforcing the Mandatory Risk Management System.  Based on research and practices of the U.S. Space Program, the risk management system established checkpoints at every phase of meat processing.

The presence of E. coli was defined as an adulterant under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.  I continued to sue “Big Meat” as most of my clients up to 2002 were children who were made sick by eating E. coli contaminated meat.  I recovered over $350 million during this period from the meat industry and the restaurants they supplied in verdicts and settlements on behalf of those clients.  In 2003 recalls of meat laced with E. coli began to decline.  After 24 million pounds of contaminated beef were recalled in 34 separate incidents in 2002, recalls dropped off to just over a million pounds a year for the next three years, and then to just 181,900 pounds in 2006.  The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention saw E. coli – related illnesses drop 48%.

But then came Spring 2007. E. coli, which begins its life in the hindgut of a cow, mounted a surge on its home court.  And, it came back with a vengeance.  Thirty-three million pounds of beef would be recalled in 22 incidents.  All over the country, slaughterhouses, packing and distribution centers, retail outlets, and restaurants were once again testing positive for E. coli and people-mostly children-were getting seriously sick.

The American meat supply, which had again been touted as safest in the world, tumbled back into disarray.  But, why?

As with any unexplained mystery, theories abound.  Could it really just be meat industry complacency?  Did everyone respond to the good numbers in 2006 by taking a long nap?  Did meat processors slack off—consciously or unconsciously—and relax their testing procedures?

Or could it be better reporting?  Doctors are more aware of E. coli now, and perhaps when patients present symptoms of food poisoning; tests are more likely to be ordered.  When the presence of E coli is found and reported, a recall is triggered.

There’s always global warming.  Seriously though – very smart people have posited that droughts in the southeast and southwest have launched more fecal dust into the air, which then finds its way into beef slaughtering plants.  It has also been suggested that the deluging rainfall in other areas created muddy pens—an ideal environment for E. coli.

While we’re at it, why not blame high oil prices?  High gas prices have fueled (sorry) the growth of ethanol plants.  These plants are often built next to feedlots, and a byproduct of the ethanol production process—distiller’s grains—is considered an excellent (and cheap) alternative to corn for cattle feed.  Unfortunately, research at Kansas State University associates the use of distiller’s grains as feed with an increase in the incidence of E. coli in the hindguts of cattle.

Another controversial issue may affect the meat supply.  The New York Times reported that immigration officials began a crackdown at slaughterhouses across the country in the fall of 2006.  Experienced—albeit undocumented—workers have been cleared out and replaced with unskilled, inexperienced labor.

And then there’s Darwin.  Another theory holds that interventions have caused the wily E. coli microbes to adapt, selecting pathogens that are more resistant to detection or intervention.  E. coli back in our meat cannot be tolerated.  We’ve got a lot of summer of 2008 left. Summer has always been kind to the E. coli bug.  More than 5.6 million pounds of E. coli contaminated beef has been recalled so far in 2008, most supplied by Nebraska Beef Ltd., via the Kroger Grocery chain.  All of which is responsible for a multi-state outbreak of E. coli that again is filling up the ICU’s in Hospitals in the seven states.

What is being done?  Not much.

Congress has held some hearings, but the only new reform is that the names of retail stores that received meat and poultry involved in recalls with high health risk will be made public.  Good as far as it goes.

However, despite 76,000,000 American’s being sickened, 325,000 hospitalized and 5,000 deaths each year, food safety has not made it as a Presidential campaign issue.  Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have about run out its clock.  But E. coli is back in our meat and we better care.

Solutions?

Continue Reading E. coli O157:H7 is a powerful and deadly bacterium