Mystery E coli Outbreak Likely Linked to Ground Beef


More than 80% of ill individuals reported consuming ground beef prior to falling ill, yet health officials have been unable to pinpoint a common supplier, distributor, or brand responsible for this outbreak.

In early April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced an investigation into a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E coli O103. When the outbreak was announced, there were 72 linked cases across 5 states, yet health officials were unable to pinpoint a common source of infection.

On April 12, 2019, the CDC released an update on the outbreak investigation, announcing that preliminary epidemiologic information suggested that ground beef could be the common source of infection. Health officials arrived at this conclusion after interviewing some of the ill individuals about the foods they ate in the week leading up to the onset of symptoms. In total, 75 individuals were interviewed and 63 of the ill (84%) reported eating ground beef.

The people reported buying and/or eating ground beef products from several different stores and restaurants. Yet, traceback investigation was still unable to identify a common supplier, distributor, or brand of beef that was a common source of the infection.

According to the CDC’s most recent investigation update, issued on April 26, 2019, 177 individuals have been infected with the outbreak strain across 10 states. The CDC’s PulseNet laboratory has confirmed that each individual case is a part of this outbreak.

The onset of illness for confirmed cases range from March 1 to March 14, 2019. The affected individuals range in age from less than 1 year to 94 years with a median age of 18 years. Information is available for 143 individuals and indicates that 21 (15%) have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths or cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome reported.

Health officials in multiple states continue to investigate probable cases that may be linked to this outbreak. Illnesses that began after March 29, 2019, may not yet be reported due to the reporting timeline associated with E coli.

A team of officials from the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) collected ground beef from restaurants and institutions where ill individuals reported eating in Kentucky and Tennessee. Testing identified the outbreak strain in beef sampled in Kentucky and testing to determine if it is closely related to the isolates of the ill individuals is underway.

On April 23, 2019, K2D Foods of Carrolton, Georgia, issued a recall for 113,424 pound of raw ground beef, potentially contaminated with E coli O103. However, the US Department of Agriculture said, "At this time, there is no definitive link between this positive product and the ongoing E coli O103 outbreak. Further traceback and product analysis continues to determine if the recalled products are related to the E coli O103 outbreak." The following day, Grant Park Packing of Franklin Park, Illinois, issued a recall for 53,200 pounds of raw ground beef.

Federal and state health officials continue to collect samples for testing as part of the traceback investigation. Although ground beef has been named the likely source of this outbreak, there is still no known common supplier, distributor, or brand that is responsible for the entire outbreak.

The CDC will continue to provide updates as they become available.

For the most recent case counts in the Shiga-toxin producing E coli outbreak, check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.

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