Health & Medicine

Girl, 16, sickened as E. coli outbreak hits Sacramento region

FILE - This Jan. 24, 2012, file photo shows a plate of butternut Caesar salad with Romaine lettuce and roasted cubes of butternut squash. U.S. health officials say the E. coli outbreak linked to tainted romaine lettuce has grown and sickened 84 people from 19 states. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday, April 25, 2018, that at least another 31 cases are believed to be tied to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.
FILE - This Jan. 24, 2012, file photo shows a plate of butternut Caesar salad with Romaine lettuce and roasted cubes of butternut squash. U.S. health officials say the E. coli outbreak linked to tainted romaine lettuce has grown and sickened 84 people from 19 states. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday, April 25, 2018, that at least another 31 cases are believed to be tied to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. AP Photo

A nationwide outbreak of the E. coli bacteria is taking its toll in the Sacramento region where at least five people have been sickened after consuming romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli bacteria, public health officials said.

So far, two cases were reported in Sacramento County. Three more cases are confirmed in Placer County, with four others still under investigation. No cases were reported in Yolo and El Dorado counties.

Across the country, 84 cases have been confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, but no one has died.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Wilton resident Tiffany Halley said her teenage daughter Izabella Radovich had spent eight days in intensive care at a Kaiser Permanente hospital but was finally well enough to be transferred to a pediatric unit.

"The Toxin (sic) is starting to leave her body," Halley wrote in her Facebook post. "She is still on TPN (intravenous nutrition) and just started eating small bites of food."

The CDC is warning people not to buy or eat romaine lettuce-- including whole head romaine, chopped lettuce and salad mixes--unless they can confirm it's not from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, where the E. coli contamination originated. Since most packaging does not include details of where lettuce was grown, people shouldn't eat romaine product if they're not sure where it's from.

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, said children are more susceptible than adults to E. coli bacterial infections. The bacteria more formally known as Escherichia coli can be found in the environment, in food and even in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals.

Most strains of it are harmless. A few strains, however, can cause illnesses that are anywhere from mild to severe.

Halley said her daughter had been infected by the shiga toxin produce E. coli, often abbreviated as STEC. That illness can be fatal.

"The abdominal pain can be quite severe," Blumberg said. "Patients may or may not have fever, but it’s really this bloody diarrhea and the severe cramping that can be a clue....About 10 percent of the cases go on to the more severe form: the hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which consists of three things. One is a particular kind of hemolytic anemia. The red cells actually aren’t stable enough, so they break up. There’s also thrombocytopemia, which is when the blood platelets decrease, and then acute renal dysfunction where the kidneys are affected also."

The anemia can be so severe, Blumberg said, that the body is unable to produce blood cells fast enough to make up for those being killed off by the disease. The heart, the brain and other organs cannot get enough oxygen, leading to heart failure and death. More is known now about treatment, Blumberg said, and one critical element may seem counter intuitive. Doctors do not give these patients antibiotics.

"We’ve realized that antibiotics don’t help these infections," Blumberg said. "They actually hurt, resulting in worse outcomes. The antibiotics can kill the organism, but...killing the organism can actually release more toxin. Unless the bacteria has invaded the bloodstream or for other reasons, antibiotics generally are not recommended because they can increase the risk of this progressing from simple gastroenteritis into the hemolytic-uremic syndrome."

Halley did not immediately respond to The Bee's request for an interview, but in her Facebook post, she thanked her friends for their prayers, love and support.

Many sites on the American River exceeded the EPA’s limit for safe levels of E. coli bacteria in 2015 and 2016. The bacteria comes from human and animal waste, and its presence indicates an increased likelihood of disease-causing organisms.

Here are the basics on how E. coli outbreaks happen and what symptoms to look for.

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