Last week, it was confidently predicted that the source of E. coli 0157:H7 infections in the Tri State Area and elsewhere had been identified.
Taco Bell Corp, the health departments of Nassau and Suffolk counties, and a number of other health agencies traced the outbreak of infections to green onions used at restaurants throughout the Taco Bell fast food chain. The chain promptly recalled all green onions from its roughly 5,800 locations.
This week, it appears that white onions used at the restaurants are also infected with the bacteria. The number of confirmed and reported cases of infection continues to rise.
Green onions were identified as the source when at least one unsealed package of them confiscated by health officials tested positive. The package was confiscated when eight Long Island Taco Bells were closed and inspected on December 4th (they reopened on December 5th).
It was announced late yesterday that white onions taken at the same time from a Taco Bell in Hempstead also tested positive. The strain of the bacteria identified in the white onions, however, is different from that identified in individuals who have been infected.
Both counties are working with each other and with the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the State Health Department.
The Nassau County Department of Health has thus far reported 81 cases of people who became sick after eating at County Taco Bells. Only four of these cases are confirmed as E. coli infections. Ten of the individuals have been hospitalized.
The latest person to be moved from the list of suspected cases to the list of confirmed cases is a 19-year-old who ate at the Taco Bell at
247 Merrick Road in Lynbrook. Thus, the Lynbrook location yesterday became the seventh Nassau County Taco Bell to receive orders to close, throw out its entire food stock, and disinfect thoroughly before being allowed to reopen.
The locations of the six Taco Bells forced to follow this procedure last week are:
490 Peninsula Boulevard, Hempstead: 2 cases confirmed, 1 suspected
1634 Front Street, East Meadow: 1 case confirmed, 3 suspected 3950 Sunrise Highway, Seaford: 1 case confirmed, 1 suspected Broadway Mall, Hicksville: 1 case confirmed, 3 suspected 1650 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park: 8 suspected Roosevelt Field Mall, Garden City: 1 confirmed (the same case as Broadway Mall).
All 200 employees who work at the seven Nassau County Taco Bells in question have been tested for infection, under orders from the County Department of Health.
One of the confirmed cases, a 51-year-old woman who ate at the Seaford Taco Bell, has been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), generally identified as the most serious possible consequence of E.
coli infection. HUS interferes with kidney function and can lead to kidney failure, paralysis, blindness and death. The woman has been released from the hospital.
In all, 19 Nassau County Taco Bells have been associated with sick individuals. Those linked to cases suspected of E. coli infection, but not confirmed are located in Franklin Square, Glen Cove, Greenvale, Hicksville (restaurants on South Oyster Bay Road and Old Country Road), Levittown (Hempstead Turnpike), Long Beach (Long Beach Blvd), Merrick (Merrick Road), Oceanside (Long Beach Road), Rockville Centre (Sunrise Highway), Valley Stream (Sunrise Mall) and Westbury.
Five more possible cases are under investigation, with the sites still unidentified.
Suffolk County reports ten possible E. coli cases and two “probable cases”. The ten confirmed cases match the strain identified in cases in Delaware, New Jersey and upstate New York.
Last week, the County confirmed twelve cases, but this week, it is calling “probably” two cases where the patient has tested positive for E. coli, but the exact strain has not been identified. Over 100 suspected cases are under investigation.
The County reports that all twelve confirmed and probable cases reported eating at the four Suffolk County Taco Bells that closed on December 4th.
Two of these cases developed HUS. One patient remains hospitalized.
None of the confirmed cases reported eating at Taco Bell after November 28th, and neither of the probable cases reported eating at the restaurant after December 4th.
The most common symptoms of E. coli infection are abdominal cramps, diarrhea and bloody diarrhea. E. coli is most dangerous for children and the elderly. Most of those infected will recover without treatment in less than ten days. In fact, if not for news of the outbreak, health officials last week implied that many of those infected would probably have passed their symptoms off as an ordinary upset stomach and not reported them. Nevertheless, officials continue to encourage anyone who believes they might have been infected to report to their county health department.