E. coli infection
strikes 4 in isles

The state has found no
common source for the
food-borne bacterial illness

WAILUKU » State health officials are investigating reports of four people getting food poisoning from E. coli bacteria.

State of Hawaii Three people were from different parts of Oahu; the fourth was a visitor to Oahu and the Big Island, state health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said yesterday.

Okubo said the onset of their illnesses occurred between Aug. 12 and 16, and none of the four people was hospitalized.

The bacteria can cause severe illness and death. An estimated 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been a total of nine cases of "E. coli 0157:H7" food poisoning reported so far in 2005, compared with 10 cases in 2004 and nine cases in 2003, Okubo said.

Although most bacterial strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, E. coli 0157:H7 produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness, the CDC said.

Infection often leads to bloody diarrhea and occasionally to kidney failure, the CDC said.

State health officials have issued a physicians' alert, notifying doctors of the illnesses and asking them to report similar incidents.

"Right now, we don't have any type of cause identified. There's no common food exposure history identified," she said.

Okubo said while health officials view the incidents as a cluster of cases, they do not know if the cause is the same.

Okubo said the bacterial poisoning is sometimes identified through blood in the stool or severe stomach cramps. She advised those who might have experienced these problems to check with their physicians.

Okubo said one of the common causes is eating under-cooked beef that has E. coli O157:H7 or cross-contaminating other food by placing it on a plate that might have contained the bacteria.

She said people should use a meat thermometer when cooking ground beef and insert the prod in the thickest part of the meat to make sure its interior has been heated to at least 160 degrees.

Okubo said people should never put cooked hamburger or vegetables on a plate with raw meat, or drink unpasteurized milk or juice.

She said vegetables should be washed thoroughly, especially if they are eaten uncooked.

State Department of Health

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