An outbreak of a less-common form of E. coli has sickened at least 14 people across six states and killed a 21-month old girl in New Orleans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
As of Friday, state health officials in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee reported cases of the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strain called O145. The more commonly known form is E. coli O157:H7. The first illness report came April 15, and the most recent is from June 4, the CDC says.
With E. coli infections, it can take up to two to three weeks from "the beginning of a patient's illness to the confirmation that he or she was part of an outbreak," according to the CDC.
No source of the infection has been identified. State public health officials are interviewing ill persons to obtain information regarding foods they might have eaten and other exposures in the week before illness.
Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli usually manifest as illness two to eight days after a person has swallowed the bacteria. Most people develop diarrhea, usually watery and often bloody, and abdominal cramps. Most illnesses resolve on their own within seven days, but some can last longer and be more severe.
Most people recover within a week, but in rare cases, some develop a more severe infection. Hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, can begin as the diarrhea is improving. HUS can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old and the elderly.
Because the source isn't known, health officials can't give consumers specific advice on how to avoid the infection, but in general, E. coli can be prevented using these tips from the CDC:
�Wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.
�Wash hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
�Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees. It's best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of "doneness."
�Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices (such as fresh apple cider).
�Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools and backyard "kiddie" pools.