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Wis woman, 77, dies in multistate E. coli outbreak

September 16, 2006

Associated Press Greater Milwaukee

WAUWATOSA - A 77-year-old Wisconsin woman died of kidney failure related to E. coli poisoning a week before reports surfaced of a 19-state outbreak connected to bagged spinach that has sickened dozens, her son said Friday.

Marion Graff, of Manitowoc, died of kidney failure Sept. 7 at St. Vincent's Hospital in Green Bay, Russell Graff told The Associated Press. The kidney failure was caused by an E. coli infection, he said.

Health officials are still asking the family questions to determine how his mother, whom he described as active and healthy, contracted E. coli, said Graff, 51, of Fitchburg.

"She liked her lettuce. She liked her spinach. She liked her fresh fruit," he said.

The news was first reported by the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, which confirmed the death through the Manitowoc County Health Department after receiving permission from the woman's family.

The department confirmed to The AP that the county had the state's only fatality connected to the outbreak.

The death is the only known one so far in the outbreak, which grew Friday to encompass about 100 cases in 19 states.

Gov. Jim Doyle and the state's health officials raised the number of people affected by the outbreak in Wisconsin to 30 on Friday.

Seventeen cases have resulted in hospitalization, with five of them involving a serious infection, Doyle said at a news conference Friday.

Some people still remained hospitalized as of Friday, said Helene Nelson, secretary of the state's Department of Health and Family Services.

Of the cases in Wisconsin, 24 of them involved women, and the ages ranged from 9 to 84, Doyle said.

Doyle said the cases took place in nine counties. Green and Green Lake counties were added Friday to the list, which also includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Ozaukee, Dane, Manitowoc and Outagamie counties. The total of 30 cases reported Friday was up from 20 Thursday.

There are also 21 suspected cases of the disease in Wisconsin, with four of them in the latter stages of confirmation, said Bevan Baker, Milwaukee County Health Department commissioner.

The governor and state health officials said they were working to determine the source of the outbreak by interviewing the affected people about what they ate, where they bought it and when.

That information will be shared with other states and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Doyle said.

The parents of two young children who they say suffered an infection because of the outbreak filed a lawsuit against Dole Food Co. Friday in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.

Anna and Paul Zientek of Milwaukee are seeking a jury trial and an undetermined amount of damages. They said in court filings that their children were sickened by spinach they ate in salads between Aug. 26 and Aug. 29. Symptoms in David, 6, and Caroline, 2, appeared several days later, resulting in their hospitalization, the filings said.

Both children tested positive for hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious infection, the filing said. David was released from the hospital on Thursday, while his sister was still hospitalized as of Friday and had to undergo a blood transfusion, the filing said.

The firm of Marler Clark LLP, based in Seattle, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family in Milwaukee. Also on Friday, the firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Salem, Ore., woman against the California-based company, saying she became sick after eating bagged spinach.

Drew Falkenstein, a lawyer with the firm, said they are representing at least eight people across the country and more lawsuits will be coming.

A message left at Dole's offices in California was not immediately returned.

Doyle expressed sadness for the families affected by the outbreak and warned people to be cautious, though he said the number of infections is not that high considering the number of people who eat spinach.

He said people should heed government warnings to throw out their bagged spinach.

"We are telling everyone to get rid of fresh bagged spinach right now. Don't assume anything is over," he said.

Graff's daughter, Leah Duckworth, of Oakland, Calif., told WTMJ-Radio she keeps wondering why her mother died in the outbreak. She warned people to be extra cautious.

"Just wash the vegetables," she said. "Don't eat spinach right now and just be really, really careful. Don't let anything like this happen to anyone else." She said her mother, a retired bank clerk and widow, died rather suddenly.

"It was very quick and I did get to say goodbye to her over the phone and then 10 minutes later she was gone," Duckworth said.

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