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Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
December 07, 2006

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Gretchen Michael
Tom Slater
Marilyn Riley

Laboratory Tests by NJ Department of Health and Senior Services Confirm E coli Patients Likely Have Related Strain of Illness


Laboratory tests at the Department of Health and Senior Services have confirmed that 11 of 33 people with culture confirmed cases of E coli 0157 likely have the same strain of the disease.


Only one test result has been received confirming the presence of the H7 strain of the disease, which is far more serious and can result in kidney failure. The remaining test results on the H7 strain are pending.


The Department is investigating a total of 55 reports of illnesses in New Jersey residents from13 counties: Middlesex, Union, Somerset, Camden, Passaic, Essex, Cape May, Mercer, Gloucester, Monmouth, Hunterdon, Ocean and Bergen.


Nearly 80 percent of the illnesses reported have involved eating at a Taco Bell franchise. The individuals reported getting sick between Nov. 9 and Dec. 6 and have an age range of 1-51 years.


 “While our investigation is continuing, today’s results preliminarily link these 11 patients to the same strain of E coli,’’ said Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.


“This additional information provides more evidence that these cases may indeed be related,’’ Dr. Jacobs said.


Dr. Jacobs stressed that the food source that may be linked to this multi-state outbreak has yet to be identified.


Based on an announcement by Taco Bell Corp. on Dec. 6 that three samples of green onions were preliminarily positive, the Department yesterday recommended that all Taco Bells in New Jersey receiving food from the McLane Food Service, Inc. of Burlington County discard all current food supplies and clean and sanitize their facilities.


Additionally, the Department recommended that workers in Taco Bells with culture confirmed cases have stool samples taken and that food workers have enhanced training in proper food handling and hygiene.


Also today, the Department hosted a conference call with 90 local and county officials statewide to update them on the outbreak in New Jersey and the surrounding states, and to answer their questions and concerns about how inspections should be handled with local Taco Bell franchises.


Department officials also had a conference call with Yum Foods, the parent company of Taco Bell, to update them on the Department investigation. Taco Bell has been very cooperative in the Department’s and the region’s investigation.


E. coli is a bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of healthy people.  Most strains of this bacteria are harmless.  However, E. coli 0157:H7 is a specific strain that causes illness.


One of the 11 preliminarily linked cases involves an out of state resident.


Because this is a multi-state outbreak, including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a standard cases definition that is more narrow than the one that the Department had been using in defining confirmed and probable cases. Therefore, the numbers the Department has been reporting are different than the CDC numbers.


Eight of the 11 preliminarily linked cases meet the CDC case definition of a confirmed case. Illness onset for these 8 cases is Nov. 20 to Nov. 25 and the age range is 4 to 37 years. Of the remaining three, one has no history of eating at Taco Bell and two have no food histories, including a South Carolina resident who ate and got sick in New Jersey.


On average, symptoms of E. coli 0157: H7 occur three days after swallowing the bacteria, but can range from two to 10 days. Symptoms of E. coli 0157: H7 vary from person to person.  Some people have no symptoms (asymptomatic) and others have mild to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.  If a person has diarrheal illness (three or more loose/bloody/watery stools within 24 hours) and ate at a Taco Bell restaurant within seven days before becoming ill, they should contact their healthcare provider.



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