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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
April 14, 1999

Outbreaks of Gastrointestinal Illness of Unknown Etiology Associated With Eating Burritos—United States, October 1997-October 1998

JAMA. 1999;281(14):1263-1264. doi:10.1001/jama.281.14.1263

MMWR. 1999;48:210-213

From October 1997 through October 1998, 16 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with eating burritos occurred in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. All but one outbreak occurred in schools, and most of the approximately 1700 persons affected were children. This report summarizes investigations of two of these outbreaks and describes the collaborative efforts of CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify the etiologic agent(s); these outbreaks may have been caused by an undetected toxin or a new agent not previously associated with illness.

On March 23, 1998, the Hall County Health Department received a report that students in an elementary school became ill after eating lunch. Health officials obtained food and illness histories from 452 (77%) of the 584 students. A case was defined as nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea within 24 hours in a person after eating the school lunch on March 23. Of the 452 students, 155 (34%) had illnesses meeting the case definition. Symptoms most commonly reported were nausea (89%), headache (65%), abdominal cramps (53%), vomiting (29%), and diarrhea (17%). The median incubation period was approximately 15 minutes (range: 5-25 minutes), and median duration of illness was 4.5 hours (range: 10 minutes-8 hours).