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For Release: August 28, 2008
Contact: Larry Weatherford
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Situation Update No. 4
Outbreak of Severe Diarrheal Illness in Northeastern Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has narrowed the focus of its investigation into a severe diarrheal outbreak in northeastern Oklahoma to the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, OK. The OSDH is trying to determine how food served at the restaurant might have become contaminated. The restaurant continues to remain closed while the outbreak investigation continues.

Yesterday the OSDH confirmed that an unusual type of E. coli is probably responsible for the severe illness experienced by at least 73 persons sickened by the outbreak, although disease investigators say that number could increase as they interview others who may have become ill as a result of the outbreak. The OSDH public health laboratory is collecting and analyzing specimens from patients and has sent some specimens to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further analysis.

At least 50 persons have been hospitalized and one person has died.

Health officials warn that the strain of E. coli associated with this outbreak can be easily spread among family household members or close contacts, providing the potential for additional persons to become ill.

“We strongly recommend to the public that they wash their hands frequently, particularly after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and preparing food. Persons who are sick with diarrhea should not be involved in food preparation,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.

As the investigation continues in the search for the source of the outbreak, health officials warn that the upcoming holiday weekend as well as tailgate parties and other recreational activities provide the opportunity for foodborne disease transmission. “Take the time to clean hands and food preparation surfaces frequently, keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods, cook foods to proper temperatures, and refrigerate leftover foods quickly,” Bradley advised.

For more information on the status of this outbreak, proper handwashing and food safety techniques, and links to other resources, check out the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Web site at www.health.ok.gov and click on “Current Features – Severe Diarrheal Illness Outbreak.”

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