King County has updated their investigation into the E. coli outbreak among people who ate at the Matador restaurant in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. In addition to the five people sickened who ate at the Matador restaurant, there are five others who are sick with the same E. coli strain. And there are two other Washington state residents, who do not live in King County, and three out-of-state residents who have tested positive for the same strain of E. coli bacteria.
One of the out-of-state cases had a meal at the Matador restaurant in Ballard during the exposure period. The others do not have any identifiable links to the restaurant. And there are no links to restaurants other than the Matador in this outbreak at this time.
The genetic fingerprint of the E. coli bacteria that has sickened all of these people is similar. This particular strain has not been seen before in Washington state. Since the last time those sickened ate at that Matador location was August 22, 2016, and the incubation time of an E. coli infection is no longer than 10 days, the outbreak will most likely not grow although the bacteria can spread person-to-person. It is possible that others became sick later in August or early September who have not been identified at this time.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea that is watery and/or bloody, severe abdominal cramps, a mild fever, and nausea and vomiting. Most people get better within a few days on their own, but some develop a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be life-threatening. The symptoms of HUS include little or no urine output, lethargy, easy bruising, a skin rash, and bleeding from the nose or mouth.
The update from King County continues with information about foodborne illness investigations. It can take a couple of weeks after a person gets sick before an E. coli illness is reported to government officials. The person can take up to 10 days to get sick, then they need to see a doctor. The stool sample can take several days, and then Public Health will be contacted and must interview the patient.
In this outbreak, four of the five cases in King County did not report eating at the Matador restaurant when they were first interviewed by Public Health staff. It took more interviews to find a commonality among those who were sick.
As soon as officials discovered the link to the Matador restaurant in this outbreak, they inspected the facility and suspended the permit to operate. Two problems were found during the inspection: a potential for cross contamination based on inadequate cleaning of a food processor, and inadequate cleaning of produce. Officials do not know of either of these problems contributed to the outbreak.
Officials are still interviewing sick persons and are working with the Washington State Department of Health on the out-of-county cases. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) has been notified. Environmental samples will be taken at the restaurant, although there is no single ingredient or food being focused on at this time. And employees will be interviewed to make sure no one was working while they were sick; preliminary reports indicate that no food workers have been sick.
No action is needed by the public at this time. However, if anyone suffers from bloody diarrhea, they should see a doctor, even if they didn’t eat at the Matador restaurant. An E. coli infection can develop into HUS if improperly treated with antibiotics.