GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The Michigan Department of Community Health is investigating an outbreak of a potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.
One person in Kent County, five people in Michigan and people in several other states have gotten sick. The culprit appears to be undercooked ground beef.
“It feels like your insides are full of battery acid,” Kevin McDermed, who said he contracted E. coli, and described to 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.
He said he was hospitalized for 10 days. He had abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. He said it was the worst pain he has ever experienced.
“I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I’ve never been sick like that before in my life. Never,” he said. “Lucky to be alive, thank God.”
He did not suspect the rare hamburger he got at a restaurant was the cause of his illness.
“I had no idea that I was that close to death or how serious it was until I started reading about it,” McDermed said.
“We have a multi-case, multi-county situation where the common food here was ground beef at all different restaurants,” said Eric Pessell, the director of the Environmental Health Division at the Kent County Health Department.
Pessell said that people who have gotten sick appear to have eaten undercooked ground beef at restaurants and first showed symptoms between April 22 and May 1. Three of the five sickened in Michigan were hospitalized. All are recovering.
One of those who became ill was an Ottawa County resident, but that person did not require hospitalization. That person did not contract the E. coli from eating at an Ottawa County establishment, the county health department said.
“This [strain] is not frequent. That’s why this is something that came about with a multi-state, multi-jurisdiction, multi-government investigation to get to the bottom of it,” Pessell said. “I mean, this is where meat recalls come from.”
Pessell said that there are a few serious strains of E. coli, but “this is one of the major” ones. Symptoms include vomiting and abdominal cramps, but the key symptom is bloody diarrhea.
Pessell said that young children and the elderly are most at risk, but said this strain has a history of affecting kids “particularly hard.”
Pessell said this strain can cause Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which is basically a failure of one’s kidneys.
“There have been cases of this where people have to be on kidney dialysis for the rest of their lives,” he said. “There have been E. coli O157 tragedies where children have unfortunately passed away.”
That’s why it’s particularly important for everyone, especially kids, to refrain from eating raw or undercooked hamburger meat.
“It’s really important then that you thoroughly cook a burger,” Pressell said. “A steak, you just have the outside of potential contamination, which gets really hot and you kill all the bacteria. A burger, it’s ground so you have the outside inside.”
“I wouldn’t be scared, I would be smart,” he continued. “Use a thermometer to make sure it reaches 160 degrees.”
Pressell said the state and federal investigation into what caused the outbreak is currently underway.
“Right now, we’re looking towards the beef-packing company that packed the beef, but it’s still too soon to know definitively,” he said.
“E. coli generally will come in contact with the beef during the slaughtering process. As they’re slaughtering the animal, sometimes the intestine is inadvertently nicked, which causes the fecal mater E. coli to get onto the beef, which is the part we consume. Then when that beef if ground up, it is introduced to the interior, the ground beef,” Shane Green with the Kent County Health Department explained.
Pessell described an ongoing, in-depth investigation.
“Right now, the federal government, state government, local government — we are working [and] investigating for more details, trying to do a trace back to — if we have to — all the way back to the farm,” he said.
24 Hour News 8’s Tom Hillen contributed this report.