E. Coli, influenza, whooping cough: 7 recent and ongoing outbreaks

Different parts of the United States have experienced outbreaks caused by bacteria and viruses in recent months. Some of these events have approached epidemic levels, while others have been comparatively small in scale. Seven such outbreaks are detailed below.

Escherichia coli

The CDC, several state health departments and the FDA are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

Seventeen people across 13 states became infected with the bacteria from Nov. 15 through Dec. 8. Three cases were identified in California, two in Connecticut and New Hampshire, and one each in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.

As of Dec. 28, federal investigators were examining a possible link between the U.S. outbreak and similar infections reported in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the bacteria.

E. coli is transmitted through contact with fecal matter, which can contaminate food and water, from an infected person or animal. Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coliinfection often include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC.


Twenty-eight residents and 11 employees contracted norovirus at Narrows Glen, a Tacoma, Wash.-based senior living community.

Facility staff notified the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department of the outbreak Dec. 22. The department was closed through Dec. 22-25 for the Christmas holiday. County health officials began investigating the outbreak Dec. 26.

Symptoms of norovirus can include stomach pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. The illness can be transmitted via person-to-person contact, or contact with contaminated surfaces and food. Norovirus causes 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths every year, according to the CDC.

Meningococcal disease

Health officials on Dec. 20 confirmed another case of meningococcal disease in a student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, marking the third such case confirmed among students in the previous 30 days and the sixth case identified at the university in 2017.

The most recent case occurred in a 21-year-old who was hospitalized with meningitis on Dec. 17. The case spurred the university to require all students under the age of 25 to get vaccinated for meningococcal B disease by Feb. 15. Before the sixth case, vaccination was encouraged for all students under 25, but mandatory for all first-year students.

Infection with the bacteria can cause meningococcal disease, which first presents as a flu-like illness before rapidly worsening. The illness can cause infections of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis) and infections of the blood (septicemia).

The five other students infected in 2017 received treatment for the infection and recovered.


Sunnyvale (Texas) Independent School District closed three schools on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13 after influenza kept 85 students at its elementary school home on Dec. 11.

While the schools were closed, janitors worked to disinfect each of the district's three campuses. The shutdown marked the first time in 10 years the district canceled school due to a flu outbreak.

Flu season has intensified nationwide over the last several weeks, with more than 21,000 laboratory specimens taken from patients testing positive for the virus as of Dec. 23.


Health officials with Syracuse (N.Y.) University increased the number of confirmed cases related to an ongoing mumps outbreak among students to 51 on Dec. 6, marking a 14-case increase since Nov. 3.

Additionally, officials reported 81 probable cases linked to the outbreak, which started in August. The outbreak has persisted despite the fact the university began offering previously vaccinated students a third dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in October to prevent further spread of the virus.

The mumps is characterized by painful, swollen salivary glands. It is a highly transmissible illness passed via person-to-person contact. It is typically accompanied by initial symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite.

Hepatitis A

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services tallied 583 cases of hepatitis A among residents in the southeast portion of the state as of Dec. 6.

The outbreak, which began in August 2016, has contributed to 482 hospitalizations and 20 deaths. The outbreak is unrelated but similar to California's ongoing hepatitis A outbreak, as it has primarily affected states' homeless and illicit-drug-using populations. The concurrent outbreaks in these states and others have hindered the national supply of the hepatitis A vaccine.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include abdominal pain, low-grade fever, nausea, fatigue and jaundice. The virus is highly transmissible and most often spread via contact with fecal matter from an infected individual.

Whooping cough

Officials with the Otsego County Health Department confirmed six cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, at Oneonta (N.Y.) High School, between Nov. 22 and Dec. 4.

Pertussis incites uncontrollable, violent coughing, which can persist for weeks or months. The bacterial illness is spread by person-to-person contact, sneezing or coughing. Infants, young children and the elderly are at the highest risk for complications.

To learn more about pertussis, click here.

More articles on infection control: 
Texas hospital sees 200+ cases of flu in 1 week 
Most older adults say nursing homes should require flu shots for patients, staff 
6 factors influencing air contamination in ORs

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