Virginia E. coli Outbreak Part of Alarming Nationwide Trend

An outbreak of the highly toxic E. coli O157:H7 at a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Virginia is the latest statistic in an alarming increase in E. coli in the US. Since the spring of 2007, more than 40 million tons of contaminated beef have been recalled, hundreds have been sickened, and some of the ill are fighting for their lives. The Goshen outbreak has confirmed 14 illnesses with 10 hospitalizations, but as many as 70 may be sick.

“Recalls of beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 have jumped by a factor of two hundred in just a year and a half,” said food safety advocate and attorney William Marler. “Families who sent their kids to camp will now spend the rest of the summer with them in ICUs. Something is terribly, terribly wrong with the American meat supply system, and immediate action must be taken by our leaders.”

E. coli is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of food borne E. coli outbreaks has been traced to contaminated ground beef; however leafy vegetables that have been contaminated in fields or during processing have been increasingly identified as the source of outbreaks, as have unpasteurized milk and cheese, unpasteurized apple juice and cider, alfalfa and radish sprouts, orange juice, and even water. There have also been outbreaks associated with petting zoos and agricultural fairs.

The first symptom of E. coli infection is the onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by bloody diarrhea. This is hemorrhagic colitis, and it typically occurs within 2 to 5 days of ingestion of E. coli; however the incubation period—the time between the ingestion of E. coli bacteria and the onset of illness—may be as broad as 1 to 10 days.

“If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is critical to visit your healthcare provider, because an E. coli infection can make you very, very sick,” Marler continued. “In some instances E. coli infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a cause of acute kidney failure, so make sure you know what you’re dealing with.”

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