While the E. Coli outbreak began with lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has updated its E. Coli warning to include all types of Romaine Lettuce. This includes heads and hearts of lettuce, chopped lettuce and lettuce found in pre-packaged salad kits. Since most store bought lettuce does not identify its growing regions, it is safer to avoid all types of Romaine.
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On Friday, April 20th, the CDC had reported that so far 53 people in 16 different states have gotten sick, including 31 people who were hospitalized. While no one has died because of the outbreak, more and more cases are being reported, including five people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a dangerous type of kidney failure.
“Because this outbreak involves a strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7) that can lead to serious illness including kidney failure, state officials are asking Alaskans to follow CDC recommendations and avoid any romaine lettuce products that could be contaminated,” said a news release from the state of Alaska. The new warning was based on eight cases that came from Nome, Alaska.
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According to officials, symptoms of this strain of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Anyone with these symptoms should see a health provider immediately and report their infection to local departments of health and social services.
While anyone is at risk, past year’s data has shown that the E. Coli virus more commonly infects women. In this outbreak alone, 70% of those who’ve gotten sick are female. According to the CDC, last year, 67% of those infected were women or girls and in 2016, females were 73% of those ill from an outbreak in alfalfa sprouts.
The most likely culprit is women’s diets. Since, on average, women consume more vegetables than men, they are more likely to be exposed than men. A 2012 study of nearly 15,000 men and women published in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found a higher rate of men ate meat and some poultry than women, who ate fruits and vegetables in higher proportions. This explains why when E. Coli outbreaks are linked to beef products, more men are infected than women.
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“We can’t say with complete certainty why women have been disproportionately affected,” Bob Adak, chief of the U.K. Health Protection Agency, told USA Today in 2011, “but in previous outbreaks around the world associated with salad vegetables we have seen women and adults more severely affected than men and children, so it’s possible that this could be an indicator of food preference.”
The CDC recommends the following to avoid becoming infected with a harmful strain: using proper hygiene; cooking meat at proper temperatures; avoiding raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and juices; and not swallowing water when swimming.
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Also, Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch says that washing greens will not help either. “This bacteria can actually get inside the lettuce leaf,” he said. “Washing it doesn’t make it safe.”