Spinach & E. coli: Questions & Answers
Answers to 14 Questions About the E. coli Outbreak in Spinach
Sept. 22, 2006 -- Fresh spinach and products containing fresh spinach should
remain off U.S. plates, following a multistate E. coli outbreak linked to at
least one death and scores of illnesses.
The FDA's investigation is centering on spinach grown in three California
counties -- Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Clara -- the FDA's David Acheson,
MD, told reporters in a teleconference.
Acheson is the chief medical officer in the FDA's Center for Food Safety and
Here are 14 questions and answers for consumers about the outbreak and
Q. How long will the FDA's warning on fresh spinach last?
A. Until further notice.
"That's a particularly difficult question to answer," CDC
spokeswoman Christine Pearson tells WebMD.
"Typically, with food-borne outbreaks, it really is a process of just
trying to get all the information you can and so it may take a while to get to
that point," Pearson says.
"The ban on spinach will last until FDA releases the alert," Richard
Linton, PhD, tells WebMD in an email. "This will occur once FDA is
comfortable that they have isolated the source of potentially contaminated
product. This will likely take days to weeks."
Linton is a professor of food safety and director of the Center for Food
Safety Engineering at Purdue University.
Q. What is E. coli?
A. E. coli is a bacterium. There are hundreds of strains of E. coli
bacteria; the strain involved in the current outbreak is E. coli 0157:H7.
Q. Is this strain of E. coli more dangerous than other strains?
"E coli 0157 is a particularly dangerous type of E. coli because it can
lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome," says Pearson. "So it can be more
severe for people."
Q. What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a life-threatening complication of E. coli
infection affecting the kidneys.
It's usually treated in intensive care and often requires blood transfusions
and kidney dialysis. Young children and the elderly are at particular risk for
Even with intensive care treatment, the death rate for hemolytic uremic
syndrome is 3% to 5%, according to the CDC.
Q. Do most infected people develop hemolytic uremic syndrome?
"That's definitely not the case," Pearson says. An estimated 2% to
7% of infections lead to this complication, according to the CDC web site.
Q. What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?
"Basically, the common symptoms for E. coli are severe bloody diarrhea, and cramping.
Sometimes it isn't necessarily bloody," Pearson says
"Anybody who does develop diarrhea after consuming fresh spinach should
see their doctor and also ask that [the doctor] take a specimen for
testing," she adds.
Q. How long does it usually take before symptoms start?
A. "Twelve to 36 hours, normally. Up to a week in some cases,"