Head Start Students in LA Get SalmonellaOct 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP A salmonella outbreak at several preschools in the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles have left 15 Head Start students hospitalized and over two dozen children and adults sickened, according to county officials.
The outbreak was traced to a North Hollywood kitchen that supplies food to the 29 preschools that are run by the Volunteers of America (VOA) of Greater Los Angeles. The group is a faith-based nonprofit organization, said David Dassey of the L.A. County Public Health Department. County public health officials inspected the kitchen, which voluntarily closed at the end of last week. The kitchen reopened Tuesday, according to Bob Pratt, president of the VOA group. Letters were sent to parents advising them of the salmonella outbreak and urging frequent hand-washing and other healthy practices, Pratt said. "The highest priority is the health of our children," Pratt said. "We want to err on the side of caution."
Dassey said public health investigators were still in the process of determining the extent of the outbreak, which seemed to increase hourly. As of noon yesterday, there were 25 confirmed cases, but "that will only go up," he said. The first reported case occurred on October 15 at the Maude Booth Family Center, in North Hollywood, said Dassey; that center is adjacent to the kitchen facility. The second case was reported two days later at a VOA-run school. Emergence of a second case had public health officials concerned, "It had the potential for a broader implication," Dassey said. Subsequent investigation revealed a significant number of absences among the schools' students and staff, he said. The kitchen and all of the schools are undergoing a thorough cleaning by VOA staff, he added.
Los Angeles County usually has about 800 documented cases of salmonella poisoning annually; however, mild cases can be unreported and believed to be an upset stomach, Dassey said. There are usually between two and four outbreaks affecting about two-dozen people each annually. Dassey estimates that salmonella poisoning—salmonellosis—is fatal in about one percent of documented victims.
Salmonella bacterium, is usually found in food contaminated with animal feces, and can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes and painful urination. A victim of Reiter’s Syndrome may have already been treated for the initial infection, and it can be weeks before the symptoms of Reiter’s Syndrome become apparent. Reiter’s Syndrome, which can plague its victims for months or years, is said to occur when reactive arthritis is evident and at least one other non-joint area, such as the eyes, skin or muscles, is affected.