US citizen from South Korea tests positive for potential deadly strain of E. coli

The U.S. government says a U.S. citizen traveling from South Korea has tested positive for a new, potentially deadly strand of E. coli infection that’s affecting people from more than 40 countries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield disclosed the case at an event on Wednesday. It’s the first confirmed case of omicron variant infection in a returned U.S. traveler.

Redfield says the traveler was not hospitalized.

The strain has been particularly hard on young children and has been linked to deaths in Germany and Israel. The CDC said it has confirmed 80 cases in the U.S. since October, but not any fatalities.

Last week, the CDC issued new guidelines for travelers who need antibiotics after exposure to the new strain of E. coli, advising them to take them as prescribed.

Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within a week but some develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a kidney problem that can lead to blood infections and death.

Pompeo called the new strain “very dangerous,” saying it’s much more difficult to treat. He urged Americans to be vigilant for symptoms, and said the U.S. has activated its emergency operations center to manage the outbreak.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the new strain “probably the biggest family of opportunistic bacteria we’ve seen in a long time.”

Officials have been scrambling to prevent more infections by better identifying the new strain. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered more frequent testing of fresh vegetables and pastas that might be contaminated.

At the state level, some public health officials have ordered up to three times as many samples of potential waterborne illnesses as usual.

Redfield said the CDC is working with the Korean Embassy and local health authorities to investigate the strain and “try to figure out how and why this is happening.”

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