Twelve residents in New Hampshire have been sickened with E. coli, which has been linked to ground beef. The state's health officials are currently conducting an investigation to find the source of the E. coli outbreak.

According to a statement issued Friday, people have been infected with the same E. coli strain since June, after consuming ground beef. The people who reported becoming ill ate ground beef from several locations.

"The Division of Public Health Services is working with our federal partners to investigate the source of the ground beef that is causing people in New Hampshire to become ill," said Division of Public Health Services' Acting Director Marcella Bobinsky.

Bobinsky added that ground beef has been recognized before as a source of E. coli. People should avoid eating ground beef that is undercooked regardless of location — in restaurants or at home.

New Hampshire health officials said the people are not at risk of becoming infected with E. coli as long as the food is properly cooked, especially ground beef, at a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit at the very least.

People should also follow best practices in terms of food safety. This includes avoiding cross contamination during food preparation and washing of hands thoroughly as well as other kitchen utensils such as knives and cutting boards after touching raw meat.

E. coli is short for Escherichia coli, which is a bacteria that typically lives in animals' and people's intestines. The majority of the E. coli strains are harmless, and some are even parts of a healthy intestinal tract in humans.

But there are some pathogenic E. coli that can cause diarrhea and other health conditions outside of the intestinal tract. These E. coli strains are transmissible through infected food and water supply as well as contact with affected individuals and animals.

These pathogenic strains of E. coli are categorized into pathotypes, and there are six of them that are linked with diarrhea, namely Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), Enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), Diffusely adherent E. coli (DAEC) and Enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC).

While anyone can become infected with E. coli, young children, senior adults and people with compromised immune systems are highly at risk of infection. Other risk factors include eating particular kinds of foods such as unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat, soft cheeses produced from soft milk as well as apple cider or juice.

Infected individuals are often advised to avoid anti-diarrheal drugs, as these slow down the body's digestive system and prevents the body from getting the toxins out. E. coli-infected patients are asked to consume a lot of fluids to avoid fatigue and dehydration and take a lot of rest.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr

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