State Health Department Investigates E. Coli Cases That May Be Linked to Taco Bell

Albany, NY - December 6, 2006 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today announced that the State Health Department is investigating 15 cases with laboratory evidence of a E. coli O157 infection in New York State tied to a national outbreak associated with Taco Bell restaurants. An additional 15 potential cases are also being investigated.

Dr. Novello said, "People should promptly contact their health care provider or local health department, if they have experienced possible symptoms of E. coli infection such as bloody diarrhea or abdominal cramps."

The 15 laboratory-confirmed cases have occurred during the last three weeks among people who ate at Taco Bell restaurants. The cases have been reported in Suffolk, Nassau, Clinton, Oneida, and Otsego counties. Of these cases, there have been 13 hospitalizations and 1 report of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of E. coli O157 infection that can lead to kidney failure.

Taco Bell announced earlier today that green onions sampled from several restaurants associated with the outbreak have preliminary test results positive for E. coli O157. The New York State Department of Health is independently testing the green onions to confirm preliminary test results obtained by Taco Bell. Taco Bell has removed green onions at all of its restaurants nationwide.

In addition, in cooperation with local health departments, Taco Bell is taking the following actions for all restaurants associated with confirmed cases of E. coli O157 cleaning and sanitizing restaurants, discarding all food, testing all food workers, and conducting employee training on safe food handling practices.

The State Health Department's Wadsworth Laboratory is conducting tests to determine if the E. coli O157 bacteria from the New York State cases match the samples being tested in the national outbreak. Test results are expected to be available later this week. Additionally, the Department has issued an alert to all health care providers in the state to ensure that the health care community is aware of the outbreak and can provide appropriate medical care.

People of any age can become infected with E. coli O157, but children and the elderly are more likely to develop serious complications. While most strains of E. coli bacteria are harmless, several are known to produce toxins that can cause mild diarrhea with most confirmed cases developing severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Usually little or no fever is present.

The State Health Department is working closely with local and state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the investigation. Forty-three cases of E. coli O157 have been reported nationwide. The symptoms usually appear about three days after exposure, but can range from one to nine days. Most people recover without specific treatment in five to 10 days.

Additional information about E. coli can be found on the Department's website at www.health.ny.gov or on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.