Deer suspected in deadly E. coli outbreak linked to strawberries
A deadly E. coli outbreak in Oregon's prized strawberry crop -- the first of its kind in the nation -- has already been linked to at least one death and three other hospitalizations. Authorities are increasingly convinced that deer are the culprit.
The potentially deadly 0157:H7 strain has been traced to berries grown at a single farm in Washington County, 25 miles southwest of Portland, which in turn sold them to roadside stands and other suppliers across several counties in northern and central Oregon.
Deer tracks and droppings were found at the Jaquith strawberry farm, and health authorities say they expect results soon from tests to determine conclusively whether the droppings contain the same strain of E. coli found in at least 16 people who have fallen ill.
The grower is cooperating with authorities and no infected strawberries are on the market any longer.
"If someone gets sick, we ask questions about everything from what they've eaten, to whether they've been to common gatherings, to whether they've been swimming in a particular place, and then out of this we try to find commonalities," said Dr. Paul Cieslak, manager of the Oregon Public Health Division's communicable diseases section. "The commonality among these cases has been strawberries at roadside stands and farmers' markets supplied by this one farm last month."
Deer have been known to carry E. coli since 1997, but there have been no other known cases of the animals infecting strawberries, Cieslak said.
--Kim Murphy in Bend, Ore.
Photo: Deer are suspected in E. coli contamination at an Oregon strawberry farm. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service