The mystery behind an E. coli outbreak that sickened dozens of people across six states appears to have been solved, with health officials reporting ground beef as the likely source of illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday said that the outbreak has hospitalized 17 people and that patients had reported eating ground beef both at home and at restaurants before falling ill.
“Traceback investigations are ongoing to determine the source of ground beef supplied to grocery stores and restaurant where ill people ate,” said an update on the CDC website. “At this time, no common supplier, distribution, or brand of ground beef has been identified.”
Despite the findings, the agency said it is not advising people to avoid consuming ground beef, but recommends consumers and restaurants handle it safely and cook it thoroughly to avoid further illnesses.
The agency said it is continuing to investigate the source of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O103 infections and would continue to update its findings. The outbreak has affected residents in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, with 46 cases reported in Kentucky. No deaths have been reported in relation to the outbreak.
While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some are pathogenic and can cause illness, which typically includes stomach cramps and diarrhea, according to the CDC. The bacteria can be transmitted through contaminated water or food and sometimes through contact with other people and animals.
While most people recover after several days, some E. coli infection cases can be life-threatening. This is especially true for pregnant women, newborns, older or elderly adults and those with weakened immune systems.
The CDC recommends thorough handwashing, washing fruits and vegetables, cooking meat thoroughly and avoiding cross-contamination in food preparation areas as ways to prevent E. coli illness.
Fox News' Madeline Farber contributed to this report.