BALTIMORE – Three Maryland children were infected by bacteria tied to a national outbreak in spinach that has already claimed one life, state health officials said Friday.
The children are the first confirmed cases in Maryland in an E. coli outbreak that has now spread to 25 states and sickened 166 people, more than half of whom have been hospitalized.
The three children ate spinach before the national advisory was sent out by the Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 14. Two were hospitalized and all are recovering. The state health department declined to provide the ages or hometowns of the children.
A total of 10 E. coli cases have been confirmed in the state since Aug. 1, an average number for the time period, said Dr. Michelle A. Gourdine, Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Of these, three are unrelated to the national strain. Four cases, one involving a death, are still under investigation.
The death of 86-year-old June E. Dunning in Hagerstown from E. coli last week has raised questions about the extent of the outbreak, but health officials declined to comment on the case until it has been confirmed.
“That case may never be confirmed,” said Gourdine. Though samples of the spinach she consumed are being tested, “certain DNA specimens are not available,” said Gourdine.
It is unclear when conclusive results will be available in the remaining cases. Officials declined to provide any further information about the cases, citing concerns about confidentiality.
The cases were not clumped in one specific area of the state, said Dr. Diane L. Matuszak, director of the Community Health Administration at the Maryland health department.
Between 20 and 30 cases of E. coli are reported in the state each year. There have been 23 confirmed cases so far this year. “Most people recover,” said Gourdine.
The E. coli bacteria has an incubation period of 2 to 8 days. Anyone who has refrained from eating spinach since the warning and has not experienced symptoms should be in the clear, said Gourdine.
The health department, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is encouraging people to steer clear of fresh spinach, use good hand-washing practices and to be on the lookout for symptoms including diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
Maryland is one of 14 states with reference labs able to perform the necessary tests, typically on stool samples when E. coli is involved, said Matuszak. However, the state is not afraid to ask for help.
“If we can’t solve the puzzle here,” Matuszak said, “then we send it to the CDC.” – 30 – CNS-9-22-06