By EJ Mundell
FRIDAY, June 1, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- This spring's outbreak of E. coli illness tied to tainted Arizona romaine lettuce is likely over, U.S. health officials say, but not before claiming five lives.
"Romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region [of Arizona] is past its shelf life and is likely no longer being sold in stores or served in restaurants," officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement released Friday. The last shipments of suspect lettuce from the Yuma area were harvested April 16, and the harvest season is over.
So, although 25 more people got sick after the last CDC update on the outbreak, issued May 16, no new illnesses are expected. "The latest reported illness started on May 12," the CDC said.
In total, 197 cases of illness tied to the E. coli O157:H7 strain of bacteria were linked to tainted romaine lettuce, with cases spread across 35 states. Eighty-nine of the cases required hospitalization, 26 of those cases involved a potentially lethal kidney failure, and five cases resulted in death.
"This is a higher hospitalization rate than usual for E. coli O157:H7 infections, which is usually around 30 percent," the agency noted.
Deaths were reported in Arkansas (1), California (1), Minnesota (2) and New York (1).
In April, the CDC warned Americans to toss out any romaine lettuce they might have bought in stores. The agency expanded its warning from just chopped romaine to any and all forms of the lettuce.
The sweeping advisory came after information tied to some new illnesses prompted health officials to caution against eating all kinds of romaine lettuce that came from Yuma.
The agency also warned restaurants not to serve romaine lettuce to customers.
Genetic testing showed that the E. coli strain involved in the outbreak produces a specific type of "Shiga toxin" that causes more severe illness, according to Matthew Wise, the CDC deputy branch chief for outbreak response.
This is the biggest Shiga-toxin producing E. coli outbreak since a 2006 outbreak linked to spinach grown in the Salinas Valley in California, Wise said recently.
The CDC stressed that E. coli illness can be very serious, even deadly.
Usually, illness sets in "an average of three to four days after swallowing the germ. Most people get diarrhea [often bloody], severe stomach cramps and vomiting," according to the CDC.
For most, recovery will occur within a week, but more severe cases last longer.
"Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of an E. coli infection and report your illness to your local health department," the agency said.