The E. coli outbreak at Worthy Burger restaurant in South Royalton, Vermont has grown, according to what Bradley Tompkins, a health surveillance epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health, told Valley News. Two more cases have been linked to the restaurant, making the total to date six confirmed and three probable cases. The state has not updated its news release about this outbreak since September 22, 2015.
Eight of the nine patients at ground beef at Worthy Burger in August and September of this year. State health inspectors found the DNA of Shiga toxin, the compound produced by E. coli bacteria, in an unopened package of beef at the restaurant. They believe that undercooked burgers served at that restaurant are the source of the pathogenic bacteria that caused the illnesses.
Valley News also stated that investigators grew the E. coli bacteria from the meat in a laboratory and it was a slightly different strain than the outbreak strain. But, the department thinks that the ground beef from the restaurant is to blame, based on epidemiologic evidence. Interviews with patients revealed that eight of the nine people who are sick ate at the Worthy Burger restaurant in the days before they got sick.
The USDA is trying to trace the beef back to the slaughterhouse where it was produced. Health officials are not going to release the name of the slaughterhouse or any distributor until they have more information and conclusive evidence. Slaughterhouses are supposed to test their product for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria before it is released into commerce.
E. coli bacteria live in the digestive tracts of cows and other ruminant animals, but they don’t get sick. When those animals are killed, the bacteria from the intestines gets onto the meat when the intestines rupture. Then, when that meat is ground to make hamburgers, the bacteria is mixed all through the product.
Undercooked ground beef, served as hamburgers or meatloaf, can then contain live E. coli bacteria. Anyone who eats that food can get sick. It can take just 10 E. coli bacteria, in a microscopic cluster, to make someone seriously ill.
The symptoms of E. coli food poisoning include severe stomach and abdominal cramps, diarrhea that may be watery and/or bloody, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Most people who contract this infection do see their doctors because they are so sick.
Vermont officials are asking doctors in that state to keep an eye out for anyone presenting with these symptoms. They should be tested for E. coli infections. E. coli is a reportable illness, so doctors must inform state health officials when one of their patients is diagnosed.
In some people, E. coli infections can lead to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This illness can cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and death. The symptoms of HUS include lethargy, paleness, a skin rash, unexplained small bruises, and low or no urine output. If anyone experiences these symptoms, they should be taken to a doctor as soon as possible.