E. Coli Outbreak Traced To Origin

Health officials believe they have traced an outbreak of the potentially deadly E-Coli bacteria that sickened at least 18 people in Nebraska to a restaurant salad bar.

State health department spokeswoman Marla Augustine said Tuesday that 10 cases involving E-Coli O157:H7 had been confirmed through laboratory tests and eight others were suspected.

Five people, including a 79-year-old woman and a 6-year-old boy, were hospitalized but none were critically ill. Augustine said the outbreak was traced to the salad bar at a Golden Corral restaurant in Kearney.

The suspected source was contaminated lettuce at the salad bar, said Mike Kutch, president of Tri-Golden Management of Evergreen, Colo., which owns the restaurant. "Once (the outbreak) was brought to our attention, we've been cooperating with the health department," said Kutch. "We are moving forward, (but) it's a bad thing to happen."

It was not known exactly when or how the lettuce was contaminated. It could have occurred before arriving at the restaurant.

Kutch said the Kearney restaurant, which opened in March 1998, has had good reviews from health department officials in the past.

State Epidemiologist Thomas Safranek, who headed the investigation, said the outbreak is not an ongoing problem at the restaurant. Restaurant Manager Paul Rieken said it has heightened the staff's awareness in preventing contamination.

Safranek said those affected ranged in age from 5 to 79 and all of them were in the Kearney area during the weekend of Feb. 26-28.

This particular strain of E-Coli attacks the digestive tract causing fever and bloody diarrhea. In severe cases, it can cause kidney failure and death.

The first report of the outbreak came Friday from a Minden health clinic, where officials said they were treating people with suspected E-Coli symptoms.