Monday, May 10, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
From page 1
ure. All of the patients affected by
the bacteria reported symptoms of
their sickness between April 9 and
April 16, according to a Washtenaw
County Public Health press release
issued on May 6.
Most strains of E. coli do not
cause illness, but ingestion of those
that produce Shiga toxin - like the
E. coli 0145 found in the lettuce
- can cause symptoms of illness
that include diarrhea and stomach
cramping. In severe cases, afflicted
patients may contract hemorrhagic
colitis - an infection characterized
by abdominal cramps, bloody diar-
rhea and kidney failure.
The USDA currently only recog-
nizes E. coli 0157 as a harmful bac-
terial strain, leading most bacterial
laboratories to test for only the one
Susan Cerniglia, the public
information officer for Washtenaw
County Public Health, said the lack
of USDA regulations on non-0157
Shiga toxin-producing strains may
have been partially responsible for
"A lot of (laboratories) didn't
have the capacity in place to detect
this bug," Cerniglia said. "Thatkind
of hampered things."
Bill Marler, a Seattle-based per-
sonal injury lawyer with experi-
ence in food-borne illness litigation,
said this outbreak could help push
the USDA to consider implement-
ing testing regulations for non-0157
strains of E. coli.
"Not that I wish illness on peo-
ple, but the timing of the 0145 out-
break...is certainly going to get the
USDA to have to respond," Marler
said. "Over the last 15 years, there
(have been) a lot of cases of ill and
sick and dead people who haven't
been linked to E. coli 0157 but cer-
tainly had symptoms consistent
with an E. coli illness."
According to Marler, testing for
other harmful strains would be
neither difficult nor unreasonably
expensive. The recent outbreak, he
said, should serve as a wake-up call.
"If no one forces you to do some-
thing, you tend not to do it," Mar-
ler said. "I think government and
industry have gotten comfortable
doing 0157 testing, and those other
bugs are the devil you don't know.
If you're not testing for it, you don't
find it, and if you don't find it, you're
not doing anything for it."
Marler said he was "frustrated
BECOMING ONE WITH THE BEAT
Michigan fans dancing to Ludacris song "Stand Up" at game against Eastern Michigan University on Wednesday in the Wil-
pon Baseball and Softball Complex.
and a bit incredulous" that the
government still wasn't testing for
non-0157 strains, so he started his
own research into the prevalence of
these unregulated bugs in 2008.
After hiring a lab to run tests
for non-0157 strains in hamburg-
er meat, Marler said the results
showed that 1.9 percent of the first
1,000 samples contained the
harmful bacteria. The lab, he
said, sent the results to the USDA
at the time but did not receive a
The testing, which extended
to 5,000 samples, will conclude in
June, and the study's results willbe
published in July, Marler said. The
results consistently showed that
about 2 percent of the meat con-
tained non-0157strains of E. coli.
"(Two percent) may not sound
like a lot," he said. "But if you think
about it and extrapolate it...it's a
pretty big number."
Marler said he filed a petition
with the USDA in October last
year to label the top five non-0157
strains, including 0145, as adulter-
ants, but the USDA has been slow to
respond to the request.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-
NY), who is another advocate for
regulations in the testing of the
other harmful strains, said she has
been urging U.S. Secretary of Agri-
culture Tom Vilsack to take action
on the issue as well.
Marler added that it is crucial to
get these regulations in place now
because of the way bacteria evolve.
In 50 years, he said, 0157 could be
one of the less prominent strains
and one of the currently unregulat-
ed ones could move to the forefront.
"Like they adapt, we have to
adapt," Marler said. "That's the
relationship we have with patho-
genic bacteria, and if we don't
adapt, they kill us - that's their
According to Cerniglia, whether
or not the USDA changes its regu-
lations, local labs in Washtenaw
County will be more wary of the
non-0157 strains in the future.
Some labs, she said, will- even be
equipped to deal with the harmful
types of bacteria like E. coli 0145
within the next few months.
"We're more aware of some of
the problems detecting this type of
bug," Cerniglia said.
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