By: Candess Zona-Mendola
Arizona’s Department of Health Services (ADHS) was one of the first health agencies to come forward in the early days of the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter Outbreak and subsequent recall. From the confirmation of the link, ADHS has done everything in their power to not only investigate the cases, but get the word out to its residents. With four confirmed cases in the state, and the potential for more to be discovered, Arizona is showing it is committed to the safety of its citizens.
Investigation Involvement; Telling the Masses
Since March, 3, 2017, ADHS has been at the forefront of this outbreak. As one of the first agencies to confirm their participation in the E. coli investigation, they took to Twitter with their announcement:
“We are working with partners to investigate an E. coli outbreak that appears to be linked to the SoyNut Butter Co.”
ADHS has routinely posted to its Twitter account various updates on the investigation and the recalls, in an effort to keep their state in the know. Some of their updates include:
- “We recommend consumers avoid eating “I.M. Healthy” brand soynut butter and soynut butter-containing products.”
- “The E. coli outbreak investigation related to soynut butter products shows most of the people affected are children. http://1.azdhs.gov/2n2sHw4”
- “Recall: Check your pantry for I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter & Granola. They may be contaminated with E. coli O157. http://1.azdhs.gov/2lYR7pu”
- “Recall: I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter & Granola products are being recalled because they may contain E. coli O157: http://1.azdhs.gov/2mKHwXG”
This is only a sampling of the continuous stream of communication from the agency.
Social media notices were not enough. ADHS went as far as to make a full press release to solidify its involvement and promise to investigate. ADHS’ Director, Cara M. Christ, went on to say, “Our disease detectives are working on the state and local level to rapidly identify the source of this outbreak. As we determine suspected food sources that may be linked to E. coli, our state lab will test those products to determine if there’s a match.” She was not alone. Arizona’s county health departments are also working closely together in the multi-faceted investigation. In an effort to continue to spread the word about the outbreak to its citizens, both the Maricopa and Coconino county health departments also released statements:
“Individuals with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping should seek medical attention if they develop bloody diarrhea or cannot drink enough fluids to keep hydrated. We are asking healthcare providers to get stool cultures if they suspect E. coli especially in young children,” according to Maricopa County Department of Public Health’s Medical Director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine.
Coconino County Public Health Services District’s Chief Health Officer Marie Peoples mentioned in the press release, “Illness from E. coli can be very serious especially for vulnerable people such as pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with immune systems compromised by disease. It’s important that everyone take appropriate precautions to protect against foodborne illness by thorough hand washing with soap and water prior to food preparation or consumption.”
Arizona did not stop there either. Dr. Christ has even released a blog on the investigation:
“Our disease detectives at the state and counties are at it again, investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 . We are working with Arizona’s counties, other states, CDC, and regulatory agencies to determine the source of the outbreak. E. coliO157 is a strain that causes diarrhea, often bloody, along with abdominal cramps, headache, and body aches. Most people recover on their own after getting sick with E. coli O157. But some people, especially young children, develop a serious complication affecting the kidneys, called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. HUS can be life threatening. E. coliO157 is most often spread by contaminated food or drink. But people can also get sick after coming in contact with another infected person, or after contact with animals, like cattle and other livestock, who naturally carry E. coliO157 in their intestines. The germ has to be swallowed in order to get sick.
The current outbreak of E. coli was identified when the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory used molecular laboratory techniques to identify four children who had the same rare strain of E. coli. Because they had the same strain of bacteria, they likely got sick from the same source. Other people in four other states, mostly children, have also been identified with the same strain. In all, 12 people from 5 states have been identified so far, with illnesses starting in early January. More than half have been hospitalized and four children have developed HUS.
Once the laboratory link was identified, public health investigators interviewed parents and child care providers to identify all food, drinks, and other risk factors for each child during the week before they got sick. During these interviews, we discovered that several children had eaten products containing soynut butter. Further investigation identified that the child care locations for the sick children in Arizona served the same brand of products.
We still have some work to go to determine exactly what caused these children’s illnesses. But with the information we have so far, we are advising consumers to not eat I.M. Healthy Soynut Butter-containing products, including granola.
Anyone who is sick with symptoms of E. coli O157 infection should seek medical care.”
The agency’s contribution and active dialogue with its people has been refreshing to say the least.
More Cases on the Horizon?
At this time, four cases in Arizona have been linked to the outbreak of the 16 linked nationwide. Half of the victims have been hospitalized. All of the cases include children under the age of five years old. Federal and state agencies anticipate that more cases will be linked to the outbreak, possibly even more from Arizona. In fact, Colin Minor from Patch.com reported today that “seven cases at the Montessori of Alameda School brings the state’s total to nine cases in this nationwide outbreak.” The Portland, Oregon based school has been active in the search for the link. The media has confirmed the seven new cases are pending testing to confirm their connection to the outbreak, and that those who are sick were all in the same classroom.
ADHS’s investigation, along with the other state and federal agencies, is ongoing. The Arizona State Public Health Laboratory continues to conduct testing from potential victims and samples to identify any additional cases or products involved. In the meantime, ADHS continues to recommend that no one eat any of the affected products and seek medical attention if they begin to feel sick after previously eating any affected product.
For more information on this outbreak, E. coli, the recalls, and to get updates, you can visit www.unsafefoods.com.