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E. coli Outbreak Hits 7 in Ohio

By MATT LEINGANG Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Seven people who ate bagged spinach have E. coli of the same strain that has sickened people in multiple states, Ohio health officials said Friday.

Testing found infections in six people in central Ohio and one person in a southwest county, and all of them said in interviews that they had eaten packaged spinach, said Bret Atkins, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.

Ohio is the ninth state to report cases of E. coli, linked by Food and Drug Administration officials to bagged spinach. One death occurred in Wisconsin.

No deaths have been reported in Ohio. One person infected in Franklin County, which includes Columbus, has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail, Atkins said.

It was unclear how many those infected had been hospitalized. Their ages range from 15 to 46. Four cases were reported in Franklin County, and two in neighboring Fairfield County, Atkins said. The other case was in Preble County, west of Dayton, Atkins said.

The FDA has warned people not to eat bagged spinach, and said washing it wouldn't solve the problem because the bacteria is too tightly attached.

Ohio health officials are asking grocery stores to voluntarily remove bagged spinach from the shelves, Atkins said. Consumers also are being advised to discard any spinach from their homes.

Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., the nation's largest traditional grocery store chain, is yanking spinach from its store shelves.

"As a precautionary measure for the safety of customers, we have asked all stores to remove spinach, packaged and bulked, from store shelves and salad bars pending further guidance from the FDA. If customers wish to return spinach to the stores, we certainly will refund their money," spokeswoman Meghan Glynn said.

Kroger operates 2,477 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states, including regional nameplates such as Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less, King Soopers, Smiths, Frys and Dillons.

The original E. coli outbreak was reported Thursday in eight states and included 50 cases nationwide.

The outbreak has sickened others _ eight of them seriously _ in Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

The Ohio cases match the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria responsible for the outbreak elsewhere, Atkins said.

The origin of the tainted spinach is uncertain. Federal health officials did not know of any link to a specific growing region, grower, brand or supplier.

E. coli lives in the intestines of cattle and other animals and typically is linked to contamination by fecal material. The disease-linked strain of the bacterium causes an estimated 73,000 cases of infection, including 61 deaths, each year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sources of the bacterium include uncooked produce, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, contaminated water and meat, especially undercooked or raw hamburger, the agency says on its Web site.

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