At least 10 fall ill from romaine lettuce as E. coli outbreak hits Minnesota

An ongoing outbreak of E. coli related to romaine lettuce has infected at least 10 Minnesotans in the past month, the state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday.

At least 157 people have become ill across the country as a result of the outbreak, which officials say can likely be traced to the strain O-157 from lettuce originating in the Yuma region of the United States--a region that includes parts of western Arizona and Southeastern California.

Of the 10 cases in Minnesota, nine are female patients and only three required hospitalization. Of those three cases, two developed a potentially fatal condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome that sometimes leads to kidney failure.

Officials say the particular strain in question is leading to a higher rate of hospitalizations across the country, with more cases expected in the coming weeks.

"The implications of this are really serious," said Fred Pritzker, an attorney representing several Minnesotans who have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak. "I think the import of the Minnesota findings today is that there’s likely a secondary infection or source that hasn’t been identified."

Romaine from the affected area should no longer be on sale at grocery stores or restaurants, though the Department of Health urges citizens to double-check their kitchens.

"It’s not going smell different, taste different or have any indication that it’s contaminated," said Minnesota Department of Health Principal Investigator Amy Saup. "That’s why it’s important to check and see if you can confirm the source of the romaine, if not throw it out."

E. coli is an intestinal bacteria that can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, with symptoms emerging up to eight days after exposure.