Six hospitalized following Kentucky E. Coli outbreak. Is fast food the culprit?

Here’s what you need to know about E. coli

An E. coli outbreak forced 43 Chipotle locations to temporarily close their doors this week — here are the basics on how outbreaks happen and what symptoms to look for.
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An E. coli outbreak forced 43 Chipotle locations to temporarily close their doors this week — here are the basics on how outbreaks happen and what symptoms to look for.

Fast food may be a cause for a recent “sharp increase” in E. Coli infections in children, teens and some adults in Kentucky, according to the state public health department.

From March 5 to March 25, twenty Kentuckians have tested positive for a strain of E. Coli and six people have been hospitalized, according to the health department. Ages of those hospitalized were not released. No deaths have been linked to the outbreak, but E. coli can cause life-threatening complications.

Many of the infections are in Central Kentucky, including Fayette County, which had five cases, according to Jessica Cobb, the community health officer at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. The county typically sees no more than a couple of cases per month, she said. Statewide, cases have occurred as far east as Pike County and as far west as McCracken County and south in Clinton and Knox counties.

E. Coli is a bacteria found in the environment and in contaminated or improperly cooked foods; it can cause severe abdominal and stomach cramps, diarrhea, respiratory illness or pneumonia, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also be transmitted through water.

This particular strain, E. Coli 0103, can damage kidneys, according to the CDC.

“We have seen five cases and that’s abnormal for us in such a short period of time with the people getting sick so close to one another,” Fayette’s Cobb said. The county had the most confirmed cases among 13 counties affected.

The state health department said the cases identified are “typically young (teenagers and children), often with histories of extensive fast food exposure.”

There was not one particular fast food chain or food that was consistent among those affected, Cobb said regarding Fayette County’s cases.

Friday afternoon, the state health department said “some sort of food distribution is a likely mechanism for this outbreak among many of the individuals affected by the sometimes life-threatening bacteria.”

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Department for Public Health

“Healthcare providers across Kentucky have been alerted to this potential threat and are working with us to make sure patients are identified and are receiving appropriate care,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeff Howard said. “Meanwhile, we encourage all Kentuckians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of E. Coli illness and to seek care if they are ill.”

Other than Fayette, three counties have had multiple confirmed cases, including Harrison, Laurel and Pike. Roughly nine counties have reported one confirmed case each. Those include McCracken, Graves, Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Spencer, Shelby, Bourbon, Clinton and Knox.

The health department advises people to practice good hygiene; properly cook food to temperatures that kill bacteria; avoid swallowing lake or pool water; drink only pasteurized milk; and clean and sanitize food preparation areas.

Your kitchen is filled with food safety tools that, when used properly, can keep you and your loved ones healthy. Get tips on how to help prevent food poisoning by proper use of refrigerators, microwaves, cutting boards and more.

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