September 22, 1999
PETERSBURG E. COLI OUTBREAK TRACED TO BEEF
SPRINGFIELD, IL Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, today announced that contaminated beef has been pinpointed as the cause of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak that has sickened more than 300 persons in three states who attended a Labor Day weekend party near downstate Petersburg.
State public health laboratory technicians, using sophisticated genetic testing, were able to positively match the DNA makeup of the E. coli 0157:H7 found in the beef served at the Sept. 4 party with this specific E. coli bacteria in stool samples taken from infected persons.
Through the combined efforts of state and local health departments, in less than two weeks from the time we were notified of a potential food borne illness outbreak, we have been able to identify beef as the food item that made people sick, Dr. Lumpkin said. The so-called fingerprinting of the bacteria that was performed at the Departments Chicago laboratory indicates to a 97.5 percent certainty the strains are related.
In addition to meat samples provided by partygoers, laboratory tests of cow manure collected from the farm where the party was held also were genetically matched with human stool samples. This suggests that the cow slaughtered for the party may have been infected with a specific E. coli and that other cows in the herd have exactly the same organism that made people ill.
How the beef became contaminated is unknown. Outbreaks of E. coli related to beef generally are linked to the meat not being cooked thoroughly to at least 145 degrees, which would kill the bacteria, or were not held at a sufficient temperature before served.
A total of 329 persons from three states -- Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky -- have reported illness associated with attending the party, which was held in a cow pasture; 22 required hospitalization. Only an elderly man from Menard County remains in the hospital and his condition is listed as serious, but stable. Fifty-one of those sickened are culture positive for E. coli 0157:H7.
In Illinois, those ill are from 12 counties -- Christian, Cook, Kane, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Mason, McLean, Menard, Sangamon, Tazewell and Woodford.
The number of secondary infections stands at three, down two from previous reports. Two children from Menard County who attend day care had been identified as suspect cases, but lab results received today found they were negative for E. coli 0157:H7. Secondary infections have occurred in persons who were not at the party, but who lived or had contact with someone who attended the party and became sick.
State and local health department officials have interviewed 670 persons who attended the Labor Day weekend event. Organizers have estimated that as many as 1,800 persons may have been in attendance.
Every outbreak we investigate teaches an important lesson, Dr. Lumpkin said. In this case, it provides us a reminder of how important it is to cook beef thoroughly and, once cooked, to keep it at 140 degrees or refrigerated at 41 degrees or less until served.
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. In this outbreak, no cases of HUS have been identified.
While this severe strain of E. coli comes from the intestines of cattle, it has been linked to outbreaks related to many different foods and to water. A recent outbreak in New York that sickened about 800 people was traced to a water well that was contaminated with cow waste. In Illinois in 1996, there was an outbreak of E. coli that was associated with red leaf lettuce. The lettuce was apparently contaminated in the field when the farmer used water for irrigation that contained cow waste.
Most cases, however, are linked to undercooked beef and, in particular, ground beef. The ground beef can become contaminated with fecal matter when the animals are slaughtered. When the meat is ground, fecal organisms on the outside of the meat are mixed throughout the ground beef. These bacteria can survive unless the meat is thoroughly cooked. Work surfaces that come in contact with ground beef also should be thoroughly cleaned before using again.
The bacteria is 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
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
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