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Mysterious E. coli outbreak expands in 5 states

More people have been sickened in by a multi-state E. coli outbreak with an unknown source, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials said so far 96 people have been infected with E. coli O103 in five states. 

Kentucky has the most cases with 46 ill people, followed by Tennessee with 26, and Georgia with 17. Ohio has five cases and Virginia has two.

Eleven individuals have been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. No deaths have been reported. 

The CDC says the investigation is still ongoing and officials have not yet identified a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain as the source of infections. 

E. coli bacteria are found in the environment and in the intestines of animals and people. While many strains of E. coli are harmless, others can cause illness following contamination of foods. 

Over the past year, E. coli prompted widespread recalls of romaine lettuce, but that outbreak was declared over in January. Other foods that have been involved in E. coli outbreaks in the past include spinach, ground beef and flour. 

At this time, the CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid any particular food item due to E. coli, while health officials continue to investigate the source of the illnesses.

People typically get sick from E. coli two to eight days after swallowing the germ. Symptoms include diarrhea, which can be bloody, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. 

E. coli infections typically clear up within a week, but more serious cases can lead to a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, pale skin tone, fatigue and irritability, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth, and decreased urination. These complications are more common in young children under 5, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

The CDC recommends the following steps to reduce the risk of E. coli infections:

  • Wash hands frequently, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145˚F. Let rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove. Cook ground beef and pork to at least 160˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat.
  • Don't cross-contaminate food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Don't prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.