Health officials in Washington and Oregon aren’t yet saying how many people have been sickened in an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning linked to Chipotle restaurants. Still, a Kelso woman already has sued.
Health officials in two states aren’t yet reporting how many people have been sickened in an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning that shuttered Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon, saying more investigation and testing need to be done.
At least 22 people have fallen ill since Oct. 14 in the outbreak tied to the popular Mexican fast-food chain. That includes 19 confirmed cases in Washington and three in Oregon, though officials there say another case is suspected.
Officials in both states say they expect to announce new case counts by midday Tuesday.
“We assume this outbreak is much broader than we’ve seen,” said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon‘s state health officer and epidemiologist.
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In Oregon, health officials say they’ve identified the outbreak strain as E. coli O26, one of several types of Shiga toxin-producing bacteria that can cause severe illness. E. coli O26 was linked to an outbreak tied to raw clover sprouts that sickened 33 people who ate at Jimmy John’s restaurants in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Washington officials have not yet named the specific bug.
“Right now, we don’t know whether all of the cases identified are even going to turn out to be the same strain,” said Dr. Marisa D’Angeli, Washington state medical epidemiologist. Some cases may turn out to be E. coli O157: H7, a strain often associated with undercooked ground beef, while others may be E. coli O26 — or something else.
Among the apparent victims in Washington is Charmaine Mode, 41, of Kelso, who sued Chipotle on Tuesday, saying she contracted a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection after eating a burrito bowl at a Vancouver restaurant Oct. 21.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Western Washington by Minneapolis law firm PritzkerOlsen. It alleges that Mode began feeling ill with severe diarrhea on Oct. 25 and sought hospital treatment Oct. 27, where her infection was confirmed.
In Seattle, food-safety lawyer Bill Marler said he’s been retained by a Portland man, a Seattle couple and the family of a young girl who was hospitalized, all in connection with the outbreak.
Eight people have been hospitalized in the outbreak, including two in King County. Infections have been reported in Clackamas and Washington counties in Oregon and Clark, King, Skagit and Cowlitz counties in Washington.
Investigators in Washington worked over the weekend to interview ill people and those who ate at Chipotle restaurants and didn’t get sick, said D’Angeli. But laboratory confirmation not only of illness but also of the particular strain of E. coli can take up to a week.
“It’s not only testing that takes time, it’s identifying anyone else who is sick, whether the lab testing has been ordered and what preliminary testing is available, who’s been interviewed and coordinating all of the information from the local health department and from Oregon,” D’Angeli explained.
Forty-three Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon were voluntarily closed in the wake of the outbreak, said Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
“Timing of reopening will be determined by the pace and the progress of the investigation,” he said in an email. “That’s the top priority right now.”
Anyone who ate at Chipotle since mid-October and has symptoms of E. coli infection, including bloody diarrhea, should contact their health-care providers, D’Angeli said.
This is the third outbreak associated with Chipotle restaurants this year. More than 60 people in Minnesota who ate at Chipotle restaurants last summer were sickened by salmonella later tied to contaminated tomatoes, health officials said. In August, an outbreak of norovirus sickened nearly 100 at a Chipotle in Venture County, Calif.
E. coli infections can be particularly dangerous to young children and the elderly.