West Lebanon — A multistate outbreak of E. coli has infected one person in Vermont and two in New Hampshire.
Federal and state officials are still investigating the source of the outbreak, which so far has infected 17 people in 13 states, including one person in Vermont’s Chittenden County and two people in New Hampshire’s Cheshire County.
“(We) have to investigate to determine if there’s a common source,” said Beth Daly, chief of New Hampshire’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.
State health officials currently are interviewing people who have been infected to determine whether they all ate the same food in the week before they got sick.
Those involved in the outbreak got sick between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8, according to a news release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The strain of E. coli involved in the outbreak, E. coli O157:H7, causes illness by producing the Shiga toxin.
The symptoms of an infection caused by this bacteria vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC. Symptoms also may include a low-grade fever. Most people get better within a week. Some infections are mild, while others can be life-threatening.
Though the source of the U.S. outbreak has not yet been determined, a Canadian investigation into an outbreak of a related strain of E. coli there, which has infected 41 people in five provinces, identified the source as romaine lettuce.
Most of those who have become ill have recovered, though one person in Canada and one in the U.S. has died.
Though the Vermonter and one of the Granite Staters had to be hospitalized, none of the three people infected in the Twin States has died, according to state health officials.
In an effort to prevent the spread of the bacteria, Canadian officials are advising people “in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador to consider consuming other types of lettuce, instead of romaine lettuce, until more is known about the outbreak and the cause of contamination,” according to an online notice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
At this time, however, U.S. officials are not recommending that people avoid any specific food.
Investigators still are working to determine whether the two outbreaks are linked.
They are performing whole genome sequencing on samples of the bacteria making people sick in the U.S., according to the CDC release.
“Preliminary results show that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, meaning the ill people are more likely to share a common source of infection,” the CDC release said.
In general, Daly said, people should avoid the spread of bacteria by thoroughly cooking meat, washing produce and avoiding cross-contamination.
The state will send out a news release once it has more “actionable information,” said Daly, noting that New Hampshire generally sees 25 to 30 cases of this type of E. coli infection annually.
E.coli outbreaks like this are not rare, but they also aren’t frequent occurrences, said Ben Truman, the public health communication officer for the Vermont Department of Health.
“People commonly get sick with E. coli that is not part of an outbreak,” he said in an email on Friday. “E. coli is the third leading cause of bacterial foodborne illness in Vermont and Vermonters get ill with E. coli at about the same rate as the rest of the country.”
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.