(WXYZ) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli infections.
Twenty-nine cases of the strain O157 have been reported so far, with 15 in Michigan and 14 in Ohio. A total of nine people have been hospitalized.
At the same time, Michigan state health officials are investigating 98 reported cases of E. coli in Kent, Ottawa and Oakland counties.
It's not unusual for cases of E. coli to rise during the summer months. However in Michigan, there were only 20 reported cases last year, compared to the 98 that we have this year during the same time frame. So, it's a big jump.
Now, health officials say lab results have linked a few of the cases to each other. But we don't know yet if it's a food or something else. Investigators are interviewing patients, trying to narrow down what may have caused the infections.
What I can tell you is this: E. coli — short for Escherichia coli — are bacteria that can be found in our environment, food and the intestines of people and animals. Most E.coli are harmless. But some can make a toxin called Shiga toxin, which can cause severe stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and bloody diarrhea.
The most common Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) is O157, and it's the main bacteria that's behind this national outbreak so far. The most common way people get infected is through the consumption of food or drinks that have been contaminated with either human or animal feces.
As for treatment, there is no specific treatment for STEC infections. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, so it's important to drink plenty of water. Some infections are mild, while others are not.
Most people will get better within one week. Unfortunately, about 5% to 10% of people will develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, fatigue and color loss in the cheeks and inside the lower eyelids.
Here's how to avoid E. coli infection:
- Wash hands before handling or eating any food
- Cook meats thoroughly to destroy the bacteria
- Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before eating. And keep produce away from raw meat.
- Don't let raw meat, eggs or cooked food sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
- If you're eating at a restaurant and the food is undercooked, send it back.
If anyone is experiencing symptoms of E. coli — particularly if you have bloody diarrhea — please let your family doctor know.