NEW YORK (CBS SF/AP) — Four more deaths have been linked to a national food poisoning outbreak blamed on tainted Arizona-grown romaine lettuce, bringing the total to five.
The Arizona growing season is long over and it's unlikely any tainted lettuce is still in stores or people's homes. But there can be a lag in reporting, and reports of illnesses have continued to come in.
In an update Friday, health officials said 25 more cases raised the total to 197 illnesses in 35 states. At least 89 were hospitalized.
Previously one death had been reported, in California. On Friday, health officials said they have learned of four more — two in Minnesota and one each in Arkansas and New York.
Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.
The first illnesses occurred in March, and the most recent began on May 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many of the new cases were people who became ill two to three weeks ago, when contaminated lettuce was still being sold. Some said they did not eat romaine lettuce but were in close contact with someone who got sick after eating it.
Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness. People who get sick from toxin-producing E. coli come down with symptoms about three to four days after swallowing the germ, with many suffering bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.
Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.
Symptoms of this strain of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, which is often bloody, officials said. Anyone with these symptoms should see a health provider immediately and report their infection to local departments of health and social services.
E. coli are a diverse family of bacteria that can be found in the environment, in foods and in the intestines of people and animals. Most strains are harmless. To avoid becoming infected with a harmful strain, the CDC recommends using proper hygiene; cooking meat at proper temperatures; avoiding raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and juices; and not swallowing water when swimming.
Since lettuce is suspected to be the cause of the current outbreak, would it help to wash your greens before eating? No, said Ian Williams, chief of the CDC's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch.
"This bacteria can actually get inside the lettuce leaf," he said. "Washing it doesn't make it safe.
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