Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak: What it means and symptoms to look out for


GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – The current E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce has many people across the Upstate wondering if they should purchase the leafy green or not.

But what does an E. coli outbreak really mean?

“E. coli is a bacteria, which most people don’t realize all of us have millions and millions of E. coli living in our GI track all of the time,” Dr. Robert Johnson, with Bon Secours Powdersville Family Practice, said. “But some strains can cause disease.”

Those certain strains are what’s happening right now from lettuce grown in Arizona. In the last two weeks, outbreaks have appeared across the U.S.

“The main effect is that people can become quite dehydrated and because of that they can become quite ill,” Johnson said. 

With 98 people already falling ill, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that diseased lettuce could still be shipping out to stores.

So, are there things we should look out for while in the produce aisle?

“This is a microscopic organism, so you’d have to have a high powered microscope to see it. Even then you won’t know if it’s infectious, so, no, you don’t know it’s there,” Johnson said.

The easiest solution to staying healthy is to ask the store or look at the packaging to see where the romaine lettuce was grown.

We checked in with several Upstate grocery stores on Tuesday and found out that Publix confirms their lettuce is from California. Bi-LO, Costco and Walmart confirmed their lettuce also comes from California.

While the current stock may not be contaminated, it’s important to know the symptoms.

“It will cause a GI illness usually presenting with watery diarrhea and it may be mild or it may be severe,” Johnson said. 

Coming into contract with E. coli could also lead to more severe illnesses, specifically in children and the elderly.

The CDC is anticipating more hospitalizations before the E. coli is gone, so it’s important not to eat romaine lettuce unless you can confirm where it originated.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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