Image credit: IstockThe Chipotle chain voluntarily shut down 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon over the weekend after health authorities began investigating an E. coli outbreak.Health authorities are investigating 19 cases of illness related to the bacteria in Washington and three cases in Oregon, involving an unknown type of food. Eight people have been admitted to the hospital, officials said. No one has died.“There have been links made to six restaurants in the Seattle and Portland areas,” said Chris Arnold, the communications director for Chipotle, in an emailed statement on Monday. “We have closed 43 restaurants in those markets out of an abundance of caution.”The Oregon Health Authority said in a statement over the weekend that the infection affected people who ate at Chipotle outlets between Oct. 14 and 23.“We believe that a food item is probably the cause of these infections but we don’t know at this time what food item that is,” said Marisa D’Angeli, medical epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, according to The Associated Press.E. coli bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals, but some strains can cause illness and in some cases, death. Infections start when a person swallows tiny amounts of human or animal feces, often from swimming in a lake, petting an animal, or eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands after using the restroom. The strain of the E. coli found in the Washington and Oregon cases is the most commonly associated with outbreaks in food. Many people affected with that strain, the Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, may not seek health care, so the number of people made ill by the outbreak is likely more than identified.“We actually would expect there might be a jump in cases on Monday,” D’Angeli said.The infections cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea, so treatments include hydration. Most cases resolve themselves within seven days. In Washington, four cases were reported in King County, nine in Clark County, one in Cowlitz County, and five in Skagit County, the Washington State Department of Health said.People in Clackamas and Washington counties in Oregon, have also reported symptoms, the authorities there said. E. coli outbreaks often occur in bursts across multiple states at once, by being linked to food transported along supply chain routes for different restaurants or supermarkets.Last year, a dozen people were infected with E. coli linked to ground beef shipped to distributors in four states, and 19 people were infected after eating raw clover sprouts in six states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.© 2015 New York Times News Service
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