The headlines are clear these days – stay away from romaine lettuce. Over the past several months there has been an E. coli outbreak from tainted romaine lettuce. The question we all want answered is, “How does that affect us here in Greenville, TX?”
What to know and do
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 84 people from 19 states were documented to have contracted an E. coli infection from romaine lettuce as of April 10, 2018. The numbers may be higher, as there is a two to three week lag in reporting cases.
The romaine lettuce carrying the bacteria was grown in the Yuma, Arizona growing region. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to know where the lettuce you bought in Greenville, TX was grown. The CDC recommends that all Americans avoid eating any romaine lettuce unless they can be absolutely certain it didn’t come from that growing region.
This means whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and even lettuce mixes that may contain romaine. It also includes romaine served in your favorite Caesar salad at the restaurant you love. Unless you can be 100 percent sure it isn’t from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, don’t eat it. If it’s in your refrigerator and you already ate some and didn’t get sick, don’t eat it either. Throw it out. E. coli infections are not worth the risk.
Why is E. coli a concern
To date, 84 people have fallen ill (that we know of) from this E. coli outbreak. Of those, 42 – a full half – have been hospitalized. This infection can be mild, but it often is not. It can result in severe illness. Fortunately no one has died during this outbreak, though past outbreaks of E. coli have taken lives. It’s nothing to fool around with.
Isn’t E. coli normally present in our own intestines
E. coli is a common bacteria that is present all over the place, including in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals. It’s usually harmless and it plays an important role in your gut’s health. The problem is E. colihas different strains, a few of which are harmful.
The strain involved in the current outbreak is E. coli O157:H7, or O157 for short. It’s known for causing serious disease. While many people who are infected with O157 will develop diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a mild fever and recover within about a week, others will become more ill and some will have a life-threatening illness.
One of the more severe complications of O157 is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). In the five to ten percent of patients who develop HUS after O157 infection, the kidneys are severely affected and may even shut down. Most do eventually recover from the disease, but they all need to be hospitalized because kidney failure can lead to death and disability.
Treatment for O157 infection is supportive care. This means there isn’t a direct way to treat the infection like penicillin treats strep throat. Instead care is given to manage the symptoms and complications caused by O157. For example, the patient is kept hydrated if they can’t keep fluids down, given blood transfusions if they become too anemic, or treated with dialysis if their kidneys fail. This care is given until the disease runs its course and the body is able to recover and function normally again.
When should I see the doctor?
If you’ve had diarrhea for more than three days, or if you’ve got diarrhea accompanied by high fever, bloody stools, or vomiting that prevents you from staying hydrated, contact your doctor. Or, if you have any concerns about the E. coli outbreak and romaine lettuce, give us a call. Our health care team will be happy to discuss any concerns you have.
And don’t eat the romaine!