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Philadelphia warns of an E. coli outbreak

The city is already contending with an emergency level of hepatitis A cases.
Photograph: Shutterstock

An eruption of E. coli cases in Philadelphia has prompted health officials there to issue a health alert that cites restaurants as a suspected source.

The city is already contending with what authorities have declared a public health emergency, a widespread outbreak of hepatitis A. The liver affliction is typically spread through contact with food or persons already infected with the hepatitis virus. Officials say 154 people have been sickened by the hepatitis virus thus far in 2019, and several other potential cases are being investigated. In a typical year, two to nine cases of the illness are reported to the Department of Public Health. 

Officials have confirmed 14 instances since Aug. 1 of consumers being sickened by E. coli O157:H7, the version that poses a serious threat to humans. The health department stressed in the alert issued yesterday that the outbreak is still being investigated, but said “the cluster may be related to shared exposures at restaurants.”  

The establishments suspected of being the sources were not identified. But the indication of multiple places being involved suggests the source is likely a food or beverage ingredient rather than a hygiene lapse by one establishment’s employees. 

The health department’s alert calls on food handlers to stay home from work if they’re suffering any of the symptoms of E. coli poisoning, which include diarrhea, abdominal pains and a fever. It advises that they not resume working until no traces of the bacteria are found in two successive tests of their stool samples.

The department is also advising establishments to stress to their workers the importance of hand-washing, thoroughly cooking meat and avoiding unpasteurized dairy and juice products.

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