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Published on Jun 8, 2012

"At this time, we continue to interview new cases as we are notified of them," Georgia's Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nicole Price said in an email to ABC News. "We have detected no food items or environmental exposures that are statistically associated with illness at this time. This investigation is ongoing."

Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini was 21 months old when she died last Thursday at a hospital in New Orleans. Two others in the New Orleans area were also recently stricken by the same strain of E. coli, known as 0145.

Alabama public health officials have linked two cases to this outbreak. And in Florida, a 22-year-old woman's illness has been traced to the same dangerous bacterium.

Aside from the E. coli strain, all these cases have in common is that officials still have no idea what caused the illnesses.

"The likely exposure is a food source," Louisiana Department of Health spokesman Tom Gasparoli said. "But this has yet to be confirmed. Often, the contact source is not found."

Epidemiologists at CDC headquarters are poring over data sent in from the states in search of a common factor that could pinpoint a cause.

For any E. coli outbreak at this time of year, suspicions immediately turn to undercooked ground beef. The period from April through September is what scientists call "high-prevalence season" for E. coli.

E. coli are a common bacteria and not every strain is dangerous. But some, like those that carry the 0145 genetic fingerprint that is behind this outbreak, produce a deadly toxin known as shiga. This poison can cause violent reactions, including severe kidney damage and death.

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