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Death Linked to Tainted Burger : Food poisoning: Two-year-old boy in Seattle is the first death associated with the outbreak but a girl in San Diego who died also tested positive for infection with the bacterium.

ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

A 2-year-old boy died Friday from bacterial infection linked to tainted fast-food-restaurant hamburgers. The state epidemiologist said it was the first death associated with an outbreak that has sickened dozens.

The boy died of heart failure brought on by a kidney disease resulting from his infection with E. coli 0157:H7, Children’s Hospital and Medical Center spokesman Dean Forbes said.

At least 75 people--all in western Washington except for two in Spokane and three in Boise, Idaho--have fallen ill from E. coli 0157:H7 infection this month.

Most of those stricken were children who had eaten hamburgers at a Jack in the Box restaurant. Ten children remained hospitalized in Seattle.

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John Lombardini, an investigator with the King County medical examiner’s office, identified the boy who died as Michael Nole of Tacoma.

State epidemiologist Dr. John Kobayashi said the child became ill after eating a hamburger at a Jack in the Box restaurant.

The Jack in the Box fast-food chain has increased cooking times to avoid a recurrence while disputing with its California meat supplier about how the food poisoning could have occurred.

Robert Nugent, president and chief executive officer of the chain, said Thursday that the meat was probably contaminated before it reached a Jack in the Box distribution center in Seattle.

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“Our speculation at this point is that the contamination occurred at the time of slaughter,” Nugent said. He said tests show the fast-food chain got a bad shipment of beef patties from its supplier, The Vons Cos. of Arcadia, Calif.

But a Vons spokeswoman objected, saying the company tests its meat for the presence of bacteria before it turns it into frozen patties.

“Vons believes its processing did not contaminate the patties,” spokeswoman Mary McAboy said Thursday.

Nugent said the contaminated meat was part of a Nov. 19 Vons production run of small hamburger patties that mostly went to Jack in the Box restaurants in Washington and Idaho. But some went to a Commerce, Calif., distribution center that ships to the chain’s restaurants in California, Nevada, Hawaii, Mexico and Hong Kong, Nugent said.

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Nugent said he didn’t know why no illnesses linked to the Nov. 19 lot have been reported in those areas.

In San Diego, a 6-year-old girl died late last month and health officials say four other children and an adult in San Diego County became ill from the bacterial diarrhea.

The children ate hamburgers at various fast-food restaurants within days of becoming ill, said Dr. Michele Ginsberg, a San Diego County epidemiologist.

One 2-year-old girl remains on dialysis at Children’s Hospital and is in serious condition.

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The girl who died tested positive for infection with the E. coli strain bacterium, but “we haven’t determined the cause of the girl’s death,” said Children’s Hospital spokesman Mark Morelli.

“Children’s Hospital has not linked the cause of the 6-year-old girl’s death to food poisoning,” he said.


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