A fresh batch of E. coli is making American diners ill, and this one has nothing to do with Chipotle. The bacteria has sickened seven people in Washington State — and led to the closure of a Seattle restaurant — in recent weeks, and now a similar strain has now been found in three other states. According to the CDC, the strain has caused illnesses in Colorado, Idaho, and New York; it is not yet known whether all of the cases stem from the same source.
In Seattle, the majority of the cases have been linked to Matador Restaurant, where the first five people infected dined in August. Three of those five were hospitalized, and one, a 16-year-old girl, developed a kidney disease known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be fatal.
All five people have since recovered, but new cases have cropped up in the weeks since. Two of those were also found in Washington, and the other three were out of state. At least one of those out-of-state cases also dined at Matador during the exposure period. Links to the restaurant have not been identified among the two out-of-state cases.
All together, ten people have now been affected by the outbreak. Seattle health department officials say the E. coli strains in all cases share a similar genetic fingerprint.
August 22 is the last known meal date for people who got sick after eating at Matador. The King County DOH notes in a statement that it is therefore “unlikely that the outbreak is continuing, though it is possible that public health authorities will continue to find people who became sick later in August or early September.”
The county suspended the restaurant’s permit once a link to the E. coli was established. A restaurant inspection found the potential for cross-contamination based on inadequate cleaning of the food processing machines as well as inadequate cleaning of some produce. The DOH says it does not yet know if there of those contributed to the outbreak and a spokesperson for the CDC says the investigation into the most recent cases remains ongoing.
The source of E. coli outbreaks is often hard to pin down, and generally requires some time: According to the King County Department of Health, an infected person can take a week or more to develop symptoms, and then must provide a stool sample to their doctor. Results can take several days, at which time the lab reports positive results to the health department. The infected person is then questioned to establish where they may have gotten sick.
Of course, nailing down where an infection took place requires a person to remember everywhere they’ve eaten in recent weeks. In this case, the DOH says four of the five cases who are now known to have been infected at Matador didn’t even report eating there when they were initially questioned.
This is certainly not the most high-profile E. coli outbreak in recent memory. Last year, an outbreak of E. coli (as well as Norovirus and Salmonella), sickened more than 500 diners at Chipotle stores nationwide. The chain recently settled with more than 100 people who were sickened as a result. The particular source of Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak was never identified.