SEATTLE – Chipotle has closed 43 of its restaurants in two states, Washington and Oregon, amid fears of an E. coli outbreak that has affected a total of 22 people since Oct. 14.
Eight of them were hospitalized.
Three people in the Portland area and 19 people in Washington became sick after eating at the Mexican food chain, the Oregon Health Authority said.
"While the outbreak appears to be linked to food served at Chipotle restaurants, the food or other source of contamination hasn't yet been determined and remains under investigation," the Washington Department of Health said in a statement.
Marisa D'Angeli, a medical epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, said Sunday that they expect the numbers to jump on Monday. People who heard of the outbreak over the weekend may have gone to the doctor and new cases will be reported to the health department, she said.
D'Angeli also cautioned the outbreak may not be limited to people who ate at Chipotle.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. spokesman Chris Arnold said the safety and well-being of customers is always its highest priority.
He said Chipotle was notified by health officials that they were investigating E. coli cases that included people who became sick after eating at six restaurants.
"We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems," Arnold said in a statement.
Chipotle operates more than 1,700 restaurants in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Chipotle will work with health officials to determine when to reopen the restaurants and to find the cause of the problem, Arnold said.
Health officials in Washington said 17 of 19 of those who got sick in the state ate at Chipotle. They said food at the restaurants is likely the source of the infection but that no individual food item has been identified. Food samples have been collected and will be tested.
Jonathan Modie, a spokesman with the Oregon Health Authority, said many people may not see a doctor after becoming ill, so the number of people sickened in the outbreak is likely higher. People who become sick with vomiting and bloody diarrhea, and who ate at a Chipotle between Oct. 14 and 23 should see their health care provider, officials said.
People have reported symptoms of infection in Clackamas and Washington counties in Oregon, and Clark, King, Skagit and Cowlitz counties in Washington, Modie said.
There are hundreds of E. coli and similar bacteria strains in the intestines of humans. Most are harmless, but a few can cause serious problems.
Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Health officials say the best defense against the bacterial illness is to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.