Five dead, nearly 200 sickened in romaine lettuce outbreak

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Five people in the United States have died after eating romaine lettuce that was contaminated with E. coli bacteria, whose source remains a mystery, officials said Friday.

According to the latest CDC update, there have been a total of 197 illnesses, 89 hospitalizations and five deaths in 35 states.

The CDC said that some of the affected people had not eaten lettuce, but had contact with others who had fallen ill. On Friday, health officials said they have learned of four more - another in California as well as one each in Arkansas, Minnesota and NY.

Two deaths from the current outbreak occurred in Minnesota, and one each in Arkansas, California, and NY. It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in people's homes, stores, or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life.

This is the largest outbreak of its kind since a deadly E.coli outbreak in 2006 that was linked to spinach, CNN reported.

The disease appears to have been spread from romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region of Arizona.

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The reported strain of E. coli, which produces poisonous substances known as Shiga toxins, can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

The growing season in the Yuma, Ariz., region, which produced the contaminated lettuce, ended April 16.

Most new cases involve people who became sick two or three weeks ago, when the tainted lettuce was still available for sale. Of those three cases, two developed a potentially fatal condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome that sometimes leads to kidney failure.

Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

The first death was announced in early May in California.