Under Pressure, State Reveals Where E. Coli Lettuce Death Took Place

Romaine lettuce is displayed on a shelf at a supermarket on April 23, 2018, in San Rafael. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public health officials said Monday that the only confirmed death from the national outbreak of E. coli from bagged Arizona lettuce took place in California's Madera County.

The national outbreak sickened 172 people in 32 states between March 13 and May 2. It was linked to lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

Of those who became ill, federal health officials say 75 people were hospitalized. Earlier this month, federal officials announced that 39 people in California became sick from eating the lettuce, including one person who died.

At that point, representatives for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) refused to provide any details about the person who died, including where the death took place, citing laws protecting the privacy of medical patients.

"The fundamental principle is that CDPH and local health departments are required to keep this information confidential and may not release information that could identify the subject of such a report," the department said in a statement emailed to KQED in early May.


For several weeks, KQED pressed agency officials to release the name of the county where the E. coli patient died and the department repeatedly refused. That changed on Monday.

"It is Madera County," said Corey Egel, a CDPH spokesman, in an email.

Health officials in Madera County confirmed the one death in their county attributed to the E. coli outbreak, noting a pathology report that linked the case to the recent strain.

But, like the state, they would not release any information about the patient's gender and age, also citing privacy concerns.

"We really need to hold those details due to patient confidentiality," said Sara Bosse, the county's director of public health.

The Food and Drug Administration is still looking for the source of the outbreak at farms and packaging plants around Yuma.

The FDA said it received confirmation from officials in Arizona that the romaine lettuce tied to the outbreak was no longer being produced and distributed. The agency added that it was unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma area was still available in stores or restaurants because it has a 21-day shelf life.

Federal health officials say symptoms connected to the E. coli outbreak include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Most people get better within five to seven days but a small percentage of those diagnosed with the particular strain can experience more severe symptoms.