Federal and state health officials are investigating the cases of six people in Massachusetts who were sickened by a virulent strain of E. coli that appears linked to those found in several other states, officials said yesterday.
At least five of the Massachusetts victims were hospitalized. Their ages range between 3 and 60, and they include residents of Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex counties, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The six Massachusetts victims reportedly were ill between July 10 and July 16. All were sickened by a virulent bacteria strain, E. coli O157:H7, that is harbored mainly in the intestines of cattle, said Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of the epidemiology program for the state health department.
The E. coli strain can get into meat through improper butchering and processing. It produces a particular type of toxin that causes severe bleeding and diarrhea - and has been associated with kidney damage in young children, kidney failure, and fatalities.
A source of the Massachusetts contamination has not been identified, but state and US Department of Agriculture investigators are focusing on ground beef, Matyas said.
Testing of samples collected from several stores will be conducted this week, the public health department said in a statement.
"Massachusetts cases were linked by DNA testing and by comparing those results to results from others around the country through a federal food-borne illness surveillance program called PulseNet," according to the statement.
Nebraska Beef Ltd. of Omaha has recalled 5.3 million pounds of ground beef linked to E. coli illnesses across the nation.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 49 cases in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Utah.
Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.