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Food Poisoning Health Center

Taco Bell E. coli Outbreak Probed

Cases in 6 States, More States Likely to Be Affected in Ongoing Outbreak
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 8, 2006 -- The outbreak of diarrhea-causing E. coli among people who ate at Taco Bell restaurants is widening, CDC and FDA officials say.

As of noon today, the outbreak -- focused in the Northeast -- had infected 63 people in six states. Nearly 80% of those have been hospitalized.

Seven of the infected have the most feared complication of E. coli infection, a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. HUS is a life-threatening problem that causes kidney failure.

So far, there have been no deaths in the current outbreak.

But it isn't over, warns the CDC's Christopher Braden, MD, a medical epidemiologist with the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

"There are quite a number of ill persons under investigation in numerous states," Braden said today at a joint FDA/CDC news conference. "The information we have indicates that illnesses are still occurring. We consider the outbreak to be ongoing."

It's not yet clear what food item was contaminated with E. coli.

Rapid screening tests have implicated green onions, but those tests haven't been confirmed, says David Acheson, MD, chief medical officer at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

"The common factor that has come out is that these people ate at Taco Bell," Acheson said at the news conference. "What did not come out is what they ate at Taco Bell -- is it the onions, the lettuce, the tomatoes, or something else?

"What we are testing is fresh produce and cheese," he said.

Acheson praised Taco Bell Corp. for its full cooperation with FDA and CDC investigations.

However, he said it is up to state and local authorities -- not the FDA -- to decide whether the restaurants will be closed.

The outbreak is primarily in the Northeast. As of today, there have been 62 confirmed cases:

  • 28 in New Jersey
  • 21 in New York
  • 9 in Pennsylvania
  • 2 in Delaware
  • 1 in South Carolina
  • 1 in Utah

It's not yet known whether cases outside the Northeast are in people infected during travel.

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