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Published: Saturday, 6/21/2008

13 linked E. coli episodes turn up in Ohio

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio upped the number of linked E. coli cases yesterday to 13 from 10, including one each in Lucas and Seneca counties, and health officials now are investigating 17 cases in five counties, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

"We've ruled nothing in, we've ruled nothing out, and we continue to investigate," said Kristopher Weiss, a state health department spokesman.

A 27-year-old Lucas County woman with E. coli may have gotten the infection from undercooked ground beef, said Larry Vasko, deputy health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

"That's number one on our list of suspects," he said.

While Ohio has not determined a source for the E. coli, Michigan officials are confident store-bought ground beef caused the state's 29 cases of E. coli, including one in Monroe County, said James McCurtis, Jr., a Michigan Department of Community Health spokesman.

Nine of Michigan's E. coli cases have a common genetic strain with the 13 linked cases in Ohio, although the Monroe County case is not one of them, Mr. McCurtis said.

No details about the Monroe County case, which is not as severe a strain as the linked Ohio and Michigan cases, were released by state or local health officials.

Mr. Vasko declined to release more information about the infected Lucas County woman.

A Seneca County Health Department official did not return calls seeking comment.

Ohio averages 140 cases of E. coli annually.

People with the E. coli O157:H7, the strain linked in 22 cases in Ohio and Michigan, typically have diarrhea and abdominal cramps two to eight days after infection and should see their doctors, according to the Ohio health epartment.

Michigan officials hope to confirm the manufacturer of the contaminated ground beef and where it was sold by the middle of next week, Mr. McCurtis said.

To avoid E. coli infection, ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees, with juices running clear and meat grey, not pink, Mr. Vasko said.

A clean plate should be used to serve cooked meat, he added.

Hands should be washed often, especially while preparing food, before and after eating, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or touching animals, the Ohio health department said.

Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider as well as safe water. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, and keep raw meat away from other foods. And do not swallow lake or pool water while swimming, the department said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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