The relatively slow pace for foodborne illness outbreaks is continuing in the first quarter, much as it did this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the end of the first quarter, only a couple of weeks off, only three multistate outbreaks are under active investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, usually along with the Food and Drug Administration or USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Each outbreak is responsible for at least one death.

The three open investigations reported so far during the first three months of 2021 are the Feb. 2 E. coli outbreak of an unknown food source; the Feb. 12 Listeria outbreak linked to Queso Fresco made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc.; and most recently the Feb. 23  Salmonella outbreak linked to handling small pet turtles.

The E. coli outbreak may be the most serious. It is responsible for 16 infections in five states that have resulted in nine hospitalizations and one death.  The investigation is active, but without a known food source has not yet resulted in any recall,

The CDC reports it “is concerned about the growing number of severe illnesses and hospitalizations in this outbreak.”

  • Anyone with any of these severe E. coli symptoms should quickly see a healthcare provider:
  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102 degrees.
  • Diarrhea lasting for more than three days.
  • Bloody diarrhea.
  • Vomiting so much that you can not keep liquids down.
  • Signs of dehydration such as not urinating, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy upon standing up.

CDC says people with these symptoms might help solve the outbreak.  They should write down what they ate during the week before the onset of illness, report the illness to local or state health departments and answer questions about the illness from public health officials.

About E. coli infections
The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which are often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

Another outbreak that is already turned deadly involves the 22 Salmonella illnesses in seven states linked to those handling small turtles as pets.   One death and eight hospitalizations are blamed on the outbreak.

CDC warns that pet turtles can carry Salmonella germs in their excrement even if they look healthy and clean.  These germs can easily spread to the turtles, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam.    People get sick from touching turtles or anything in their environment and then touching mouths and swallowing Salmonella germs.

CDC has warned pet stores not to sell turtles with shell lengths less than four inches, and to educate customers that Salmonella and other diseases are shared between animals and humans.

About Salmonella infections
Salmonella bacteria do not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any recalled products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.

There’s also been one death among ten hospitalizations involving the Listeria Outbreak that’s linked to recalled Quesco Fresco made by Abuelito Cheese Inc.  The 11 illnesses have occurred in four states.

On Feb.27, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. expanded its recall of queso fresco cheeses. These cheeses were made or packed at the same facility as the contaminated queso fresco.

Queso Fresco with sell-buy dates through 03/28/21

  • Brand names: El Abuelito, Rio Grande, Rio Lindo
  • The El Abuelito brand 5-lb product may be repacked by stores and sold without a brand label or labeled with a different brand.

Quesillo (Oaxaca, string cheese) with sell-buy dates through 04/16/21

  • Brand names: El Abuelito, El Viejito, El Paisano, El Sabrosito, La Cima, Quesos Finos, San Carlos, Ideal
  • Many of the quesillo products were sold in bulk (5-14 lb bags). These products may be repacked by stores and sold without a brand label or labeled with a different brand.

Requeson (ricotta) with sell-buy dates through 03/14/21

  • Brand names: El Abuelito, El Viejito
  • These products were sold in 12-oz clamshell containers.

About Listeria infections
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has eaten any recalled product and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.

Also, anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products should monitor themselves for symptoms during the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop.

Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

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