Official release from the Southwest Public Health District (in Georgia).
The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now citing a Colquitt County case as part of a multi-state outbreak linked to beef infected with E. coli 0157.
“This is not a new case. What is new is that the CDC has now determined that it fit their case definition for the outbreak that began in Michigan and Ohio,” said Southwest Georgia Public Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.
Late Tuesday, the CDC announced that New York, Kentucky and Indiana each had a lab-confirmed case of bacterial infection that matched the clusters in Michigan and Ohio that had been traced to beef sold in Kroger supermarkets. With the inclusion of Georgia, six states are now linked to the outbreak.
“The number of lab-confirmed E. coli cases associated with the Colquitt County outbreak remains at eight, with four presumed cases,” Grant said. “That number has not changed. The lab-confirmed cases are undergoing additional testing to determine whether they also match the multi-state case definition. Testing results are expected later this week.”
The Colquitt County cases are the only cases related to the national outbreak found in Georgia by disease investigators, she said. All confirmed and presumed cases involve people who ate at the Barbecue Pit, located at 311 First Ave., S.E. in Moultrie from mid-June through July 3.
Public health officials are working with the restaurant owners to ensure the facility is thoroughly decontaminated. “Cross contamination is a big concern in food borne investigations, and preventing it will be a focus for our team,” Grant said.
The process has required the restaurant to discard food stored there, upgrade facilities and equipment, train staff in stringent food handling techniques and undergo additional testing.
“At this point in the investigation, we cannot estimate how long before the Barbecue Pit can reopen,” said Dr. Grant. “While our main concern is preventing the disease from spreading and protecting the health of the community, we are certainly also committed to helping the restaurant get disinfected and back to business as soon as possible.”
On July 3, the restaurant closed voluntarily as disease investigators looked for the source of the illness. The break in the investigation occurred when bacteria in one of the confirmed cases matched the strain of E. coli in the disease outbreak in Michigan and Ohio.
“That match led our team to take a closer look at beef at the Barbecue Pit. We learned had recently began purchasing meat from a new distributor, which told them it had acquired beef from Nebraska Beef, which had supplied the beef linked to the Ohio and Michigan outbreak,” Grant said. “We had been awaiting official confirmation that the Colquitt County outbreak was part of the bigger outbreak, and now we have it.”
Earlier this week, disease investigators reported a slowdown in the number of new patients seeking treatment at Colquitt Regional Medical Center and other local healthcare providers. It can take as long as 10 days before people exposed to E. coli begin having symptoms.
Symptoms of E. coli include stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, which is often bloody. A complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) may develop in patients with severe E. coli infections. The Colquitt County disease cluster included four patients with HUS, Grant said the best way to prevent E. coli and other foodborne illnesses from spreading is with good hand-washing and food preparation practices. “Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently,” said Grant. “Avoid cross-contamination of counters, equipment and utensils when you are preparing raw meat and vegetables. Cook meat thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized juices and dairy products.”
More information about E. coli is available on-line at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or by calling your local county health department.