CDC Investigates E. Coli Outbreak in 4 States, Says ‘Many Sick People’ Had Eaten at Wendy’s Restaurants

CDC Investigates E. Coli Outbreak in 4 States, Says ‘Many Sick People’ Had Eaten at Wendy’s Restaurants
A sign in front of a Wendy's restaurant. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday in its ongoing investigation into an E. coli outbreak that “many sick people” reported eating sandwiches with romaine lettuce at Wendy’s restaurants before falling ill.
“State and local public health officials have been interviewing people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Among 26 people who have been interviewed, 22 (86%) reported eating at a Wendy’s restaurant in the week before their illness started,” the CDC announced. “The Wendy’s restaurants where sick people ate are in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”

“People reported eating a variety of menu items, including burgers and sandwiches,” it added. “Romaine lettuce served on burgers and sandwiches at Wendy’s was one of the most common ingredients eaten among the menu items, but investigators continue to analyze data at the ingredient level to determine if there are any other possible foods that could be the source of the outbreak.”

Based on the information, Wendy’s is removing the romaine lettuce used in sandwiches from restaurants in the three affected states. Wendy’s has also confirmed that it is fully cooperating with the CDC in the investigation. The company said in a statement to multiple news outlets that it is “committed to upholding our high standards of food safety and quality.”

The CDC said that no evidence so far suggests that romaine lettuce being sold in other restaurants, grocery stores, or in people’s homes, is linked to the E. coli outbreak. The agency emphasized that it is “not advising that people avoid eating at Wendy’s restaurants or that people stop eating romaine lettuce.”
Romaine lettuce (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Romaine lettuce (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Specific Food Affected by Outbreak Not Confirmed

As of Aug. 19, at least 37 people from four U.S. states—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania—have been reported sick since late July due to the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. The 37 people who fell ill ranged in age from 6 to 91 years with a median age of 21 years.

“Of 24 people with information available, ten have been hospitalized. Among the ten people who have been hospitalized, three people in Michigan have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths have been reported,” the agency stated.

The announcement is an update to the CDC’s previous update on Aug. 17 regarding the ongoing investigation.
The public health agency said on Friday that a specific food has yet to be confirmed as the source of the E. coli outbreak.
The true number of people who have fallen ill due to the outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and that the outbreak may not be limited to the four states, it noted. “This is because some of the recent illnesses have not yet been reported to PulseNet as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak. In addition, some people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli.
E. coli is a type of bacteria commonly found in the environment, as well as in the intestines of people and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can cause varying degrees of illness and can even result in death. Symptoms of E. coli may include diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and/or other illnesses.
The CDC said that people should contact a doctor if they experience any suspected severe E. coli symptoms, which include diarrhea, a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celcius) for more than three days, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration signs such as limited urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy upon standing up.