By: Alex Barlow

With the news of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak of at least fifteen people who fell ill to the pathogen after eating at The Chicken & Rice Guys Alston location or one of its food trucks, many people who have eaten there are wondering what they should do to take care of their health.  This guide will help you take the steps necessary to protect yourself or a loved one who may have been infected from eating contaminated food.

Step 1: Be vigilant and informed regarding the signs, symptoms, and potential complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection. 

The short answer is that one should be very vigilant regarding any “stomach bug” they may feel coming on and immediately seek medical attention if the early signs and symptoms of E. coli food poisoning begin to appear.  Those symptoms are:

  • Sudden onset of watery diarrhea that can progress to bloody diarrhea. This condition can be so severe that it appears all that is being expelled is blood.
  • Abdominal cramps. Sometimes these cramps can become quite severe.
  • In some instances, the diarrhea and abdominal cramping will be accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Often the victim will experience fatigue, weakness and general malaise.
  • In some, but not all cases, there will be fever – usually low-grade.

If you or a loved one comes down with diarrhea after eating at a Chicken & Rice Guys restaurant or food truck, it is best to visit the emergency room and get tested for E. coli O157:H7 food poisoning.  Early detection is important to getting consistent care that will mitigate serious potential complications.  E. coli O157:H7 is a Shiga toxin producing E. coli, and is capable of causing a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).  HUS occurs in approximately 5-10% of people who are infected with E. coli O157:H7.  It is a syndrome that is characterized by the patient experiencing anemia from the destruction of red blood cells in the body (hemolytic anemia), low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia), and acute kidney failure (uremia).

This is a very serious condition that can cause death or severe and permanent kidney damage requiring an organ transplant.  Today, the mortality rate from HUS is approximately 5% of cases.  While a 5% mortality rate is a very scary number, it is much lower than the rate was in the past when HUS was first described (40% mortality).  Today’s lower death rate is the result of a better understanding of the syndrome, the availability of intensive care units, and dialysis treatments.  However, for these advances in medical treatments to make a difference, the patient needs to be diagnosed with E. coli and admitted to a facility capable of administering the needed treatments.

Because of this, it is critical that everyone showing potential signs of E. coli food poisoning seek medical attention immediately.  This is especially true for the categories of people most likely to have serious complications from an E. coli O157:H7 infection.  These categories are:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • People with an otherwise compromised immune system

While these categories are the most vulnerable, everyone who contracts E. coli is at risk.

E. coli O157:H7 symptoms typically appear anywhere between 1 and 9 days after ingesting the food, although there are instances of people with E. coli O157:H7 that manifest symptoms slightly outside of this general range. In an abundance of caution, you should seek medical attention if you begin showing the signs and symptoms of E. coli food poisoning within two weeks of having eaten food from The Chicken & Rice Guys.

Step 2: Make sure your healthcare provider is knowledgeable and informed about E. Coli infections and your potential exposure.  Then, get tested.

One of the issues we see repeatedly, when interviewing witnesses and potential clients related to food poisoning outbreaks, is that many healthcare providers are not sufficiently familiar with the early signs and symptoms of the various foodborne illnesses. Also, medical providers may fail to ask the proper background questions when taking the patient’s history to distinguish between a potentially life-threatening condition like E. coli O157:H7 and a simple stomach bug that will go away in a day or two.  In the early stages of an E. coli infection, it can be difficult or even impossible to distinguish it from less serious conditions without doing a stool test.  Often, healthcare providers do not do this test unless it is made clear to them that there is the potential for food poisoning to be the cause.  Because, of this, it is important that you make clear to the healthcare provider that you ate at The Chicken & Rice Guys and that the health authorities have identified a outbreak associated with this food provider.  It is also important that you request a stool test to rule in or rule out E. coli O157:H7.  If it is positive, make sure that it is reported to the local health authorities.  This is something that healthcare providers are typically required to do, but it does not always happen.

Step 3: If you or a loved one is positive for an E. coli O157:H7 infection make sure that an infectious disease doctor is consulted.

E. coli O157:H7 is not a disease that emergency room doctors or general practitioners see on a regular basis. Because of this, some may not fully appreciate the potential danger or be familiar with the newest and best forms of treatment. To ensure that you or your loved one gets the best possible care, ask whether or not an infectious disease specialist is being consulted. If not, ask for one.  Infectious disease specialists will likely be much more familiar with the pathogen, its potential complications and the best treatments.

More information on E. coli O157:H7 can be found at the following links:

https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/

https://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/ecoli/

In addition to these resources, Unsafefoods.com will be posting regular updates on this situation until the source has been identified and the outbreak fully contained.

If you have been diagnosed with E. coli O157:H7 after having eaten at The Chicken & Rice Guys and have further questions or wish to consult with an attorney about your potential legal remedies, you can contact the attorneys at Robins Cloud at this number (855) 969-5637.