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MDHHS, MDARD urge residents to monitor for E. Coli symptoms as cases increase in 3 counties

(CBS DETROIT) - The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and Kent, Ottawa, and Oakland county health departments are investigating an increase in illnesses related to E. coli bacteria.

According to the MDHHS, 98 cases of E. coli infection in August. 

Officials noted that over the same time period last year, only 20 cases were reported.

Test results have linked some of the reported cases to each other.

Health officials say some kinds of E. coli cause disease by making a Shiga toxin, and the bacteria that make these toxin are called "Shiga toxin-producing" E. coli, or STEC.

"While reports of E. coli illness typically increase during the warmer summer months, this significant jump in cases is alarming," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive. "This is a reminder to make sure to follow best practices when it comes to hand hygiene and food handling to prevent these kinds of foodborne illness. If you are experiencing symptoms of E. coli infection like cramping and diarrhea (or gastrointestinal distress), especially if they are severe, make sure to let your health care provider know."

Symptoms vary but often times include:

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea – often bloody
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

In addition to this, symptoms typically appear three to four days after a person was exposed, but could appear anywhere from one day to 10 days.

Officials say symptoms typically improve within five to seven days, and while some infections are mild, some can be serious and even life-threatening.

About 5% to 10% of people who have the infection develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication which includes symptoms such as    decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired and losing color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids.

Health officials shared the following list of ways to help prevent E. coli:

  • Washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol:
    • Before and after handling food.
    • After using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
    • After contact with animals or their environments, such as farms, petting zoos, fairs or even the backyard.
  • Always marinating foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outdoors. Never reuse sauce on cooked food used to marinate raw meat or poultry.
  • Never placing cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Be sure to have on hand plenty of clean utensils and platters.
  • Never letting raw meat, poultry, eggs or cooked food sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cooking meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Consumers should use a food thermometer as color is not an indicator of "doneness."
  • Rinsing fruits and vegetables well under running water. There is no need to use soap.
  • Avoiding raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  • Avoiding swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools and backyard "kiddie" pools.
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