A string of 22 cases of E. Coli prompted the shuttering of every Chipotle in Washington state and some in Oregon. In total, 43 of the fast-casual restaurants were closed on Friday in the Pacific Northwest.
There have been no deaths linked to the 19 cases tied to Chipotle restaurants in Washington and the three linked to Oregon locations. However, eight individuals who fell ill had to be hospitalized.
On The Outbreak
The investigation was still in its early stages going into the weekend. Washington State Department of Health officials hadn't yet announced a suspected source of the food poisoning.
Though 43 restaurants have been shut, Chipotle Spokesman Chris Arnold said the company linked all 22 of the food poisoning cases to six locations. The company closed all locations in the area "out of an abundance of caution," though the majority of the shut restaurants didn't report any problems, said Arnold in a prepared statement.
"The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our highest priority," said Arnold. "We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."
Often times, people affected with E. coli won't seek treatment, said Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie. So the number of people who have fallen ill to this outbreak is probably more than currently reported, he said.
"Health officials want people who have eaten at a Chipotle between Oct. 14 and 23 and become ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea to see their health-care provider and mention this outbreak," Modie said.
Contagious, Common and Comminatory
It's the most common type of food poisoning, but its impact can be life threatening. E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a family of bacteria that has good and bad members. Most types of E. coli are harmless and are important part of the human digestive system, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
"However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract," states the CDC. "The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons."
Of the six pathogenic types of E. coli, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is the most common and it's believed to be the one at the center of the Chipotle outbreak.
While the symptoms of Shiga toxin E. coli varies between individuals, some of the most common signs of its presence are bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Other common symptoms include stomach cramps and a moderate fever.
It may take weeks to fall ill, but recover typically only requires about five to seven days. The bacteria exit the body in feces during the recovery time, underscoring the need for thorough hand washing.
"Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in the past three weeks should consult their healthcare provider," said Washington State Epidemiologist Scott Lindquist. "The elderly and very young children are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection."