E. coli Outbreak

An outbreak of E. coli in eight states has left at least one person dead and 50 others sick, federal health officials said Thursday in warning consumers not to eat bagged fresh spinach.

The death occurred in Wisconsin, where 20 others were also sickened, said Dr. David Acheson of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The outbreak has sickened others -- eight of them seriously -- in Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

FDA officials do not know the source of the outbreak, other than it appears to be linked to bagged spinach. "We're advising people not to eat it," Acheson said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wisconsin health officials alerted the FDA about the outbreak Wednesday. Preliminary analysis suggests the same bug is responsible for the outbreak in all eight states.

E. coli causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, although some people -- including the very young and old -- can develop a form of kidney failure that often leads to death.

Anyone who has gotten sick after eating raw packaged spinach should contact a doctor, officials said.

The outbreak has affected a mix of ages, but most of the cases have involved women, Acheson said.

Other bagged vegetables, including prepackaged salads, apparently are not affected. In general, however, washing all bagged vegetables is recommended.

The FDA estimates that some strains of E. coli lead to 20,000 to 40,000 cases of infection each year. Sources of the bacterium include uncooked produce, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, contaminated water and meat, especially undercooked or raw hamburger, the agency says on its Web site.

In December 2005, an E. coli outbreak sickened at least eight children in Washington state. Officials traced the outbreak to unpasteurized milk from a dairy that had been ordered to stop distributing raw milk.


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