State officials warned Alaskans that romaine lettuce products could be contaminated and potentially deadly, after learning that several sick inmates at a Nome correctional facility appear to be part of a nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from Arizona.
The state has confirmed eight cases of severe gastroenteritis — swollen stomach and intestines — were caused by the bacteria at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, according to a statement Thursday from the Alaska departments of Health, Corrections and Environmental Conservation.
Complications include bad stomach cramps, potentially bloody diarrhea, vomiting and possibly kidney failure and death. No deaths have resulted from the Nome prison illnesses.
"The recently discovered cases appear to be connected to a nationwide E. coli outbreak affecting at least 53 persons in 16 states and linked to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona," the statement said.
An investigation by the state agencies has confirmed that the romaine lettuce eaten by the Nome patients was grown in Yuma.
State officials are warning Alaskans to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and avoid any romaine lettuce products that could be contaminated.
"Restaurants, retailers and consumers should ask suppliers about the source of their lettuce, and if it is from Yuma, Arizona, it should be thrown away and not eaten. This includes both whole head and chopped romaine lettuce," the statement said.
The state agencies are working to investigate and control the outbreak at the correctional center, the statement said.
"No additional cases have been identified in Alaska outside of the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center," the statement said. "None of the eight patients identified in the Alaska outbreak have been hospitalized and none have died."
Alaskans should talk to a health care provider if they have symptoms of E.coli infection, and cases should be reported to the health department at 907-269-8000, the statement said.
Careful hygiene is critical to prevent the spread of the bacteria, the state said.
"Areas where romaine lettuce has been stored should be washed and sanitized. To control the outbreak in Nome, Department of Corrections staff are sanitizing areas where patients live and encouraging frequent and thorough hand washing for all inmates," the statement said.