Feds are trying to get to the bottom of a risky E. coli outbreak spreading across the USA and Canada that seems tied to romaine lettuce, and food-safety experts say that until they do, it's probably smart to just stop eating it. In the US, the infections have been confirmed in 13 states - California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
Kidney failure due to a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome can occur in 5 to 10% of the population exposed to tainted food.
The PHAC has linked the outbreak to romaine lettuce, based on interviews with sick patients, and has urged Canadians to temporarily avoid eating romaine lettuce, though no products have been recalled.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued warnings about the outbreak.
"This strain of E. coli causes more outbreaks than all other strains combined, so it's the big problem", said Herb Schellhorn, a microbiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, who specializes in the study of E. coli and other water- and food-borne pathogens. They said sick people reported eating romaine from a variety of locations, including grocery stores, restaurants and private homes.
"Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and HUS than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill", the CDC said.
Preliminary data suggest that the U.S. E. coli outbreak could be related to an E. coli outbreak in Canada - the E. coli strains involved in both outbreaks appear to be genetically similar, according to the CDC.
As the investigation into an outbreak of E. coli in Eastern Canada continues, some local businesses on P.E.I. have taken extra precautions to ensure food is safe.
Do not buy romaine lettuce and don't use any that you may have in your refrigerator until there is more information on the source of contamination, CR says.
An E. coli outbreak has sickened more than a dozen Americans, and it's possible that romaine lettuce could be the source.