April 26, 2018

New Orleans Toddler Has Died From an E. coli Infection

A 21-month-old New Orleans toddler has died from an E. coli infection, Ken Pastorick of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told Food Poisoning Bulletin. Public health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several southern states are investigating the death and an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least two more people in the greater New Orleans area.

We talked to Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist for the Louisiana Office of Public Health, about the outbreak. He wanted to stress that foodborne illnesses are “often discounted as benign, however, this is a reminder that foodborne illnesses can have very serious consequences.” He also said that “maintaining the integrity of confidentiality is essential to preserve the reporting system.”

At first, officials suspected a petting zoo was the source of the bacteria. But Dr. Ratard said that, “contact with a petting zoo can be ruled out due to the fact that NO cases except one had contact with the local petting zoo. The likely exposure is a food source but this has yet to be confirmed.”

The specific serotype of E. coli responsible for this outbreakĀ has not been released. Many different strains can cause life-threatening infections, including E. coli 0157:H7, 0111, 026, and 045. These bacteria produce compounds called shiga toxins, which can attack organs and cause serious illness.

Children under the age of 5 are most susceptible to infections caused by E. coli bacteria. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can develop in young children who contract E. coli infections; that complication can be fatal.

Because it is impossible to prevent these infections that occur through cross-contamination, it is illegal to sell food contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 in the United States. And on June 4, 2012, the USDA is requiring beef processing plants to test beef trim for six other types of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC).

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), there have been HUS cases in these states since April 27, 2012: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.

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