HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Department of Health is investigating four cases of E. coli in Montgomery County as part of a multi-state outbreak that began in New Jersey, the department announced yesterday.



Two individuals were hospitalized, but have since been released.



"The Department of Health is working very closely with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Montgomery County Health Department to provide any information that can help in identifying the source of this outbreak," State Health Secretary Calvin B. Johnson said. "We will continue to work with our partners to identify cases in Pennsylvania and, we hope, prevent any new cases in the future."



CDC has set a timeframe of Nov. 15 as the start of the outbreak, and all four of the cases being investigated happened at the end of November. Three of the cases have confirmed eating at a Taco Bell restaurant in Montgomery County. However, no specific food source has been associated with the contamination causing the outbreak at this time.



Escherichia coli 0157:H7 are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals, primarily cattle. While most strains of the bacteria are harmless, E. coli 0157:H7 is a specific strain of E. coli that causes illness.



E. coli can cause diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Most healthy individuals can recover completely within a week, but the very young and elderly are at a greater risk of developing a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal.



For more information on E. coli, visit the Department of Health at http://www.health.state.pa.us or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH.



SOURCE: Pennsylvania Department of Health via PR Newswire.