Local, state, and federal health officials are investigating an outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Toledo that sickened 14 people, with one of those possibly dying from the bacteria.
The outbreak appears to have been from contaminated beef and occurred over a period of several days in late August and into early September. No new cases have been found.
"The key to this is there's really no public health threat. The outbreak appears over, and we don't believe there's any new transmission," said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman at the Ohio Department of Health.
Officials are being tight-lipped about the investigation and withholding specific details about those involved as well as details on the possible source of the outbreak.
Some of that secrecy is because of a state law passed two years ago that allows government officials to withhold the identity of a business suspected as a source of a disease outbreak during an investigation.
However, Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said health officials suspect a Toledo catering company might be the source of the outbreak.
He cautioned that the source also might be the supplier to that caterer or some other source. The investigation, expected to take two or three weeks, is ongoing.
Dr. Grossman said all of those who got sick ate at events where the caterer's food was present. There are three separate events in question: a physicians' meeting where food was served, a wake, and a reception for either a wedding or bridal shower.
He said 13 of those who got sick have recovered. An elderly woman from Lucas County died, but investigators are trying to determine whether pre-existing health problems caused her death.
Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a Lucas County deputy coroner, said the woman died several days after the outbreak, and until more blood tests are completed, she won't know if E. coli might have been the culprit.
Mr. Weiss said of the 13 who got sick but recovered, seven were from Lucas County, one from Sandusky County, four from Wood County, one from Montgomery County, and one from Illinois. He said they ranged in age from 3 to 94.
In addition to an Ohio Department of Health epidemiologist, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has two epidemiologists and a medical student aiding in the investigation. Jennifer Morcone, a CDC spokesman, said the agency was asked by the state health department for assistance. She added that it's not unusual for the CDC to send out specialists to help local or state health officials in this sort of investigations. "We do this all the time," she said.
The type of E. coli in this outbreak is a strain known as E. coli 0157:H7. There are hundreds of different strains of E. coli. This one produces a toxin and can cause severe illness or death. It is generally associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef.
Mr. Weiss said E. coli 0157:H7 cases are not unusual. Preliminary figures for last year show 102 cases in Ohio, 132 in 2003, and 154 in 2002. Nationwide, about 73,000 such cases and 61 deaths are reported annually.
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