Four more deaths have been linked to a national food poisoning outbreak blamed on tainted romaine lettuce, bringing the total to five.
Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz. The growing season there ended six weeks ago, and given romaine’s short shelf life, it’s unlikely any tainted lettuce is still in stores or people’s homes.
There can be a lag in reporting illnesses and deaths, though, and the reports have continued to come in.
In an update Friday on the nation’s largest E. coli outbreak in a decade, health officials said 25 more cases raised the total to 197 illnesses in 35 states. At least 89 people were hospitalized.
Previously one death had been reported, in California. On Friday, health officials said they have learned of four more: two in Minnesota and one each in Arkansas and New York.
The first illnesses occurred in March, and the most recent began May 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many of the newly reported cases were people who became ill two to three weeks ago, when contaminated lettuce was still being sold. Some said they did not eat romaine lettuce but were in close contact with someone who got sick after eating it.
Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness. People who get sick from toxin-producing E. coli come down with symptoms about three to four days after swallowing the germ, with many suffering bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.
Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.