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Deadly romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak nearing end, CDC says

It might be safe to eat romaine lettuce again.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said that due to its 21-day shelf life, “it is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants.”

» RELATED: Deadly romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak spreads to more states

“It takes two to three weeks between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported to CDC,” the agency said. “The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples’ homes.”

The latest numbers revealed 172 people in 32 states had reported illnesses in the food poisoning outbreak.

» RELATED: E. coli outbreak reaches Georgia, strikes metro Atlanta teen

People infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7, by state of residence, as of May 15, 2018 (n=172) (CDC)

Of the 157 people who were ill that the CDC has data on, at least 75 have been hospitalized. Twenty suffered a type of life-threatening kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. And one death was reported in California.

The CDC previously asked consumers to avoid buying or eating romaine lettuce at any grocery store or restaurant unless they can confirm the vegetable was not grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the United States during the winter.

» RELATED: Concerned about E. coli? Here’s how to keep your food safe from the bacteria

"This advice includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce," the CDC said. "If you do not know if the lettuce in a salad mix is romaine, do not eat it."

The outbreak began in March, with illnesses first reported in late April. But officials warn that with the delayed reporting, there may have been more cases.

The strain of E. coli involved, O157:H7, is known to be especially complicated and is associated with higher hospitalization rates. Compared to other strains, this bacteria binds more strongly to blood vessels that line organs such as the gut, the kidneys and the brain. 

» RELATED: First death reported in growing E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce

Symptoms of illness typically begin three to four days after consumption and include diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. If you’re experiencing such symptoms, the CDC recommends you seek treatment.

According to the agency, most people recover in five to seven days with the appropriate treatment, but antibiotics are not recommended if an E. coli O157 infection is suspected until it is ruled out.

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