|August 15, 2001
CHICAGO AREA E. COLI OUTBREAK UNDER INVESTIGATION
SPRINGFIELD, IL The Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments in the Chicago metropolitan area are investigating recent reports of increased incidence of illness due to E. coli bacteria that may be associated with eating undercooked ground beef, Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, today announced.
While there is no conclusive evidence yet to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, Dr. Lumpkin said consumers should be reminded to cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly to eliminate any risk of E. coli bacteria.
"A digital instant-read meat thermometer should be used to ensure thorough cooking," said Dr. Lumpkin. "Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160 degrees. Persons who cook ground beef without using a thermometer can decrease their risk of illness by not eating ground beef patties that are still pink in the middle."
In the past week, 26 reports of E. coli 0157:H7 in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake and Will counties have been received by the Department from local health departments; at least eight have required hospitalization. The onset of the illnesses dates back as far as July 1. Food histories have not been completed on all those who were ill, but at least 15 are known to have eaten ground beef.
The persons range in age from 1 year to 66 years with a median age of 10 to 14 years. Fourteen of the cases are from Cook County, five from DuPage, three in Will, two in Kane, and one each in Kendall and Lake. Over the past five years, those counties collectively averaged 18 cases of E. coli 0157:H7 during the same time period.
E. coli 0157:H7 causes severe, often bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps. In some persons, particularly children younger than 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in stroke, seizures and death.
The organism can be found in the intestines of cattle and, when the animals are slaughtered, the meat can be contaminated by intestinal contents. When the meat is ground, fecal organisms can be mixed throughout the ground beef. These bacteria can survive freezing and cooking if the temperature does not reach 160 degrees. Work surfaces that come in contact with raw ground beef also should be thoroughly cleaned before using again.
The bacteria are present in the stools of infected persons and can be passed from one person to another if hygiene and hand washing habits are inadequate.
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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