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Health Officials Warn To Stay Away From Romaine Lettuce After Infectious Outbreak

Toronto Sun / Life After Gluten

During winter, most people strive to stock up on all the nutrients they can by eating healthy. As flu rates are higher this year and colder weather is affecting more North Americans than in previous years, people are striving to add more greens to their lunch or dinner menu.

But the most recent health scare has everyone in North America worried.

According to Consumer Reports, over the past seven weeks, more than 58 people in the U.S. and Canada have been diagnosed with a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria. Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized and one has died. There's also been one death in Canada.

Most strains of this bacteria are harmless to humans, but some of them can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and other symptoms. Usually you'll hear that meat products are infected with the bacteria, but that doesn't mean fruits and vegetables can't be contaminated.

“Vegetables can be contaminated if animal feces are in the field or in irrigation or washing water,” James Rogers, Director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “The bacteria can also be transmitted if a person who is carrying the bacteria doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom and then processes or prepares food.”

Health officials warn this strain is deadly, and simply washing your greens is not good enough.

So far, people in these 13 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state) have reported the infection.

Anyone can get sick from the bacteria, but the young, elderly, and anyone who has a condition that weakens their immune system are at a greater risk.

This strain of E. coli produces a toxin that may lead to kidney failure, serious illness, and death.

Canadian health officials believe these individuals contracted the bacteria after eating romaine lettuce; however, in the U.S., health officials are still investigating the outbreak, and haven't recommended people to avoid any kind of food.

“Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” Rogers said.

Right now there is a warning to avoid romaine lettuce while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA continue to investigate the outbreak.

“There is not enough epidemiologic evidence at this time to indicate a specific source of the illnesses in the United States,” Brittany Behm, a CDC spokesperson, said. "Although some sick people reported eating romaine lettuce, preliminary data available at this time shows they were not more likely than healthy people to have eaten romaine, based on a CDC food consumption survey.”

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Moojan has been a writer at Shared for almost a year. When she's not on the lookout for viral content, she's looking at cute animal photos. Reach her at moojan@shared.com.