About two dozen suspected cases of E. coli have been reported in a Chippewa reservation in northeastern Minnesota, sending two people to the hospital and prompting an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Early testing indicates that the contamination is not linked to the statewide outbreak reported last week.
More than a handful of cases have been confirmed as E. coli, but the final numbers will fluctuate as health officials receive lab results, said April Bogard, environmental health supervisor at the department.
Community members from the Fond du Lac Band began reporting symptoms late last week, and two patients were briefly hospitalized, said Chuck Walt, executive director of tribal programs for the reservation.
"The good news is we haven't had any new cases reported, so it seems like this is on the downward slide," Walt said.
The Health Department is interviewing patients and seeking the source of the outbreak, which may have been linked to the mishandling of leftover food.
"The summer time is when we have picnics and powwows and lots of outdoor community events where food is served," Walt said. "Those tend to be areas that people suspect when you get these types of foodborne illnesses."
Health officials are urging the public to discard leftovers from picnics and other events and to report any symptoms to the department.
E. coli is an intestinal bacterium with strains that can cause stomach cramps and severe diarrhea. It can lead to serious health complications in children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
Within recent weeks, 15 other cases of E. coli have been confirmed around the state, with 12 of those patients reporting that they ate at Applebee's restaurants June 23-29. The restaurant chain voluntarily pulled the Oriental Chicken Salad from its menu following the reports, along with cabbage and shredded carrots.
On Thursday, health officials cleared Applebee's to change its food suppliers for the salad ingredients, and the items are now back on the menu.
Health officials have yet to confirm the exact strain associated with the Fond du Lac E. coli cases. The statewide outbreak strain reported last week is the unusual E. coli O111.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed last week that it is aware of two additional E. coli cases in two states that match this specific genetic strain. The states do not wish to be identified at this time and are investigating their cases to determine if they are linked to the cluster in Minnesota.