2006_12_health_tacobell.JPGPatrons at the South Plainfield, NJ Taco Bell may be in for more than just a gordita these days. The AP reports that almost 20 people in the Central Jersey town have become infected with e. coli, a common bacteria associated with mild illnesses like traveler's diarrhea as well as the deadly hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a condition that can lead to kidney failure. Most of the victims are under the age of 18, two of them having actually been diagnosed with HUS, with one 1-year-old also infected.

Authorities are still trying to track down a source of the infection but have linked 11 of the patients to the town Taco Bell. Strangely, the restaurant passed a health inspection just last week though its now being re-evaluated with its employees being examined for the bacteria. While the responsible strain of e.coli in this incident is normally found in the guts of healthy farm animals, it can become virulent in humans, having been acquired by eating undercooked meats. The infection can then be passed from person to person, usually due to a lack of hand-washing after using the bathroom. Most people present with a fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea - which may be bloody in the setting of HUS.

At this point, no NYC Taco Bells seem to be in danger, but you can search the inspection information (if that'll even tell you anything) for branches at the city's health department website.