The Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Costco Rotisserie Chicken Salad is now over after sickening 19 people in 7 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most recent illness started more than a month ago, on November 3, 2015.
The final case count by state is: California (1), Colorado (4), Missouri (1), Montana (6), Utah (5), Virginia (1), and Washington (1). Five people were hospitalized because their infections were so serious. Two people involved in this outbreak developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure. Most illnesses were reported from the western United States.
Epidemiologic evidence suggested that rotisserie chicken salad made and sold in Costco Wholesale stores in several states was the likely source of this outbreak. Fourteen (88%) of the 16 people interviewed in this outbreak ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco the week before they got sick. On November 20, 2015, Costco removed all remaining rotisserie chicken salad from all of its stores in the United States.
The Montana Public Health Laboratory tested a sample of a celery and onion diced blend that was produced by Taylor Farms Pacific, Inc. that came from a Costco store in Montana and found E. coli O157:H7. This product was used to make the Costco rotisserie chicken salad eaten by ill persons in this outbreak. But the FDA was not able to confirm the presence of the pathogenic bacteria in the blend. The traceback investigation conducted by the FDA did not identify a common source of contamination.
Taylor Farms recalled their celery and many products containing the celery and onion diced blend in a massive recall after the bacteria was found in their product. Dozens of items that contained the celery and the celery and onion product were also recalled.
This outbreak was caused by a single strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, according to DNA evidence. Pulsed field-gel electrophoresis was conducted on the bacteria to identify its fingerprint.
The symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection include diarrhea that can be watery and/or bloody, severe abdominal cramps, nausea, a mild fever, and vomiting. Symptoms usually begin three to seven days after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria. Most people recover on their own, but some become so ill, as in this outbreak, that they need to be hospitalized.
If an E. coli infection is improperly treated with antibiotics or if the person sickened is in a high risk group, it could transition into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication that can destroy the kidneys and cause death.
The symptoms of HUS include lethargy, pale skin, little to no urine output, bruising, and a skin rash. If anyone develops these symptoms, they should be taken to a doctor immediately. The Shiga toxins produced by E. coli bacteria get into the bloodstream and destroy the red blood cells. Those then get into the kidneys and clog that organ, and it can shut down.