Friday, June 10, 2011

Source of E. Coli outbreak and why you should wash your hands

About a week ago, I blogged about the E. Coli outbreak and my experience with bacteria. I mentioned my own experience to illustrate how difficult it is to pinpoint the source of a foodborne outbreak. In the ensuing time, I first read that Killer Bacteria Source May Never be Found. Apparently testing on several sources of sprouts came back negative for E. Coli. Today reports say that the source was determined to be sprouts. Even though lab tests came back negative for E. Coli, a team of experts were able to link separate clusters of sick patients, and the meals they consumed, to 26 restaurants. All of the restaurants had purchased produce from an organic farm. 

The infected sprouts are no longer in circulation. Unfortunately, the E. Coli death toll has climbed to 31 with nearly 3,100 sickened. This is being called one of the deadliest foodborne pathogen outbreaks in modern history. 

There have been few reported cases in the United States, but please take the following precautions: 
  • Don't eat sprouts
  • Wash your hands thoroughly
  • Go see your doctor if you notice any symptoms (e.g., bloody diarrhea)
Sad news for me on the sprouts front. I love the crunch of bean sprouts in my Pad Thai, but I avoided them during my pregnancy and can do so again.

I have recently been reminded of why it pays to be careful. Taking care of a 14-month-old with Coxsackievirus has been a mother's nightmare (a hungry baby who can not eat is not a good thing). My best conjecture of how he became infected is via one of his day care teachers who unknowingly cared for an infected child in the toddler room (where there were two reported cases) and then did not wash her hands adequately when she transferred to my son's infant room. That's digression at its worst, and mixing talk of bacteria with viruses, but I hope you will forgive the momentary lapse and take the warning to heart. Please wash your hands thoroughly! From the CDC guidelines:


  1. Wow, that's a lot of people who got sick. Another organic farm too. What's this, the third E. Coli outbreak from an organic farm in the last year? Maybe chemical fertilizer isn't so bad after all? :) Don't mind me, just devil's advocating, I generally buy organic when I can. Just makes me think a bit...

    I'm a borderline obsessive hand-washer. It really shocks me that so few people do it properly or not at all. The "washing" that I see some ladies doing in the restroom is so bad that sometimes I want to instruct them on the proper procedure!

  2. I am reasonably sure that the whole concept of germs are a creation of soap/disinfectant companies to sell more product. I mean really, little invisible doohickys that will make you sick if you don't buy J&J products? Common.

  3. Coral: I'm with you on the hand washing instructions. Occasionally someone will skip it completely. Ugh! The people I work with should know better. That said, it wasn't until a fundamentals of nursing class that I really learned how to wash my hands properly. We were given a fluorescing dye to spread over our hands and then were instructed to wash it off. When we put our hands under UV light, it was shocking how much I missed in the crevices between my fingers. Lesson learned.

    Mitch: Nice to see that you're putting your Master's in Public Health to good use. ;)

  4. Always use a paper towel to turn off faucets and to open bathroom doors. Frequent use of hand sanitizers is good also. However, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers during the Winter can cause skin to dry and crack creating potential sources of exposure. Using hand lotion as well can mitigate this issue.