State health officials hope to learn this week whether deer are the source of an E. coli outbreak in northwestern Oregon linked to fresh strawberries.
Samples of soil and deer droppings collected from fields at the Jaquith Strawberry Farm in Newberg, 25 miles southwest of Portland, are being analyzed and results should be available in a few days, Dr. Paul Cieslak, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division, said Tuesday.
It has been known since 1997 that deer can carry the bacteria, but investigators don't know why it has never shown up in strawberries before anywhere in the United States. E. coli has been linked to other crops, such as alfalfa sprouts, spinach and apple cider.
"Strawberry fields are out there all over the place. Deer are out there all over the place. Why we haven't had an outbreak, I couldn't tell you," Cieslak said. "Believe me, we are scratching our heads about it, too."
One elderly woman died and six people were hospitalized due to the outbreak, Cieslak said. Two people suffered kidney failure, including the woman who died. All were from northwestern Oregon. No new cases have been reported, but DNA testing on the bacteria now confirms 13 cases can be traced to the strawberry farm.
The farm sold strawberries to buyers who resold them at farm stands and farmers markets. The farm recalled strawberries that had been sold, and is no longer selling any strawberries, the agency said. Any that were sold and not eaten would be spoiled by now, but officials remained concerned that new cases could emerge if people froze berries and ate them later.
A study published in 1997 confirmed that E. coli from a deer had infected a family, which had eaten jerky made from the animal, Cieslak said.