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Lettuce-linked E. coli outbreak leads to 1 death in California

Atlanta >> An E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce has turned deadly, with one person dying in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

It was the first reported death in the outbreak, which began in March and has spread to 25 states. The California Department of Public Health confirmed the death but would not provide more details, citing patient privacy laws.

The CDC has recorded 121 cases nationwide, including 52 that resulted in hospitalization. Twenty-four cases have been reported in California, more than in any other state.

The total provided on Wednesday is up 23 cases from the CDC’s last update on April 27, and Kentucky, Massachusetts and Utah reported their first cases. The newest update includes illnesses that began as recently as April 21. It can take two to three weeks for E. coli infections to be reported to the CDC, so the actual case count may be higher.

(The Hawaii Department of Health said Wednesday it is unaware of any cases of E. coli in the islands related to the outbreak linked to lettuce from Arizona.)

The illnesses appear to stem from romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Ariz., region, and the CDC has warned restaurants and consumers to avoid romaine unless they can confirm that it was grown in a different region. Some of the infections have been linked to whole-head lettuce from a specific grower, Harrison Farms. The remainder are linked to chopped, bagged lettuce whose supplier, or suppliers, officials have not conclusively identified.

In late fall and winter, most bagged romaine comes from the Yuma growing region. But with winter over, production is shifting to the Salinas Valley in California.

Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but certain strains can cause illness, and the strain involved in the current outbreak is particularly virulent. The main symptoms are stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, often bloody. In rare cases, patients can develop a form of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

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Honolulu Star-Advertiser staff contributed to this report.

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