TRENTON — The six reported cases of people infected by the E. coli bacteria is just one part of a much larger investigation being conducted on the national level.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the New Jersey cases make up less than half of the 17 reported cases across the country, leading to a national investigation. People believed to have been infected first reported feeling sick as early as March 22 to 31, with the patients ranging in age from 12 to 84. There have been six people hospitalized, including one for a form of kidney failure, but no deaths, the CDC says.

After New Jersey, the second highest number of cases has been reported in Idaho with four. Connecticut and Pennsylvania have each reported two cases.

"The investigation is still ongoing and a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has not been identified as the sources of infections," the CDC said. "State and local public health officials are interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before their illness started."

The first case of E. coli in New Jersey was reported on March 28, with other cases reported in Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset, and Warren counties, according to state Epidemiologist Tina Tan. While Tan said the cases may be related to a restaurant chain, she would not name it until there was a stronger connection through the ongoing investigation.

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health told New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday that there had been no additional cases of E. coli reported and that the investigation is ongoing.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacteria that normally lives harmlessly in the intestines of people and animals, according to the CDC. Some types are pathogenic and can cause illness through exposure to contaminated food or water, or contact with animals or other people. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.

E. coli can be prevented by thorough hand washing after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, before and after food preparation, and contact with animals.

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