Abstract

Background

Produce-associated outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) were first identified in 1991. In April 2018, New Jersey and Pennsylvania officials reported a cluster of STEC O157 infections associated with multiple locations of a restaurant chain. CDC queried PulseNet, the national laboratory network for foodborne disease surveillance, for additional cases and began a national investigation.

Methods

A case was defined as an infection between March 13 and August 22, 2018 with one of the 22 identified outbreak-associated E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O61 pulsed-field gel electrophoresis pattern combinations, or with a strain STEC O157 that was closely related to the main outbreak strain by whole genome sequencing. We conducted epidemiologic and traceback investigations to identify illness sub-clusters and common sources. An FDA-led environmental assessment, which tested water, soil, manure, compost, and scat samples, was conducted to evaluate potential sources of STEC contamination.

Results

We identified 240 case-patients from 37 states; 104 were hospitalized, 28 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, and five died. Of 179 people who were interviewed, 152 (85%) reported consuming romaine lettuce in the week before illness onset. Twenty sub-clusters were identified. Product traceback from sub-cluster restaurants identified numerous romaine lettuce distributors and growers; all lettuce originated from the Yuma growing region. Water samples collected from an irrigation canal in the region yielded the outbreak strain of STEC O157.

Credit: CDC

Conclusion

We report on the largest multistate leafy green-linked STEC O157 outbreak in several decades. The investigation highlights the complexities associated with investigating outbreaks involving widespread environmental contamination.

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