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Nearly 400 Sickened in 42-State Salmonella Outbreak

Jan 8, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

An ongoing salmonella outbreak has sickened 388 people and hospitalized 67 in at least 42 states, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has announced.  The CDC reported that the age range of those who have fallen ill ranges from under one–year-old to 103 years of age, said WebMD.

"We are collaborating with public health officials in 42 states, the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate an ongoing multi-state outbreak of human infection with Salmonella typhimurium," CDC spokesperson Lola Russell told WebMD.  Although the CDC is not saying which states are involved, the Ohio Department of Health issued a news release confirming that Ohio has seen 50 cases there, said WebMD, which noted that Ohio is the state with the “second most” cases.  The source of the outbreak remains unknown.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesperson says it and the CDC are closely collaborating to determine the outbreak’s source, reports WebMD, which also explained that if it is found that the illness originated with an FDA-regulated item, that agency will handle the "traceback" investigation.  Tracebacks are foodborne outbreak investigations that look for the specific item that caused the outbreak as well as how that item became contaminated, said WebMD.

The salmonella strain involved in this particular outbreak—Salmonellatyphimurium—is considered common and is also the same strain responsible for the 2007 wide-scale outbreak that sickened over 400 people in over 40 states, Russell told WebMD.  In that case, Russell added, the CDC found that undercooked, not-ready-to-eat Banquet brand frozen pot pies were to blame.  Last year’s huge salmonella outbreak that was finally traced to Mexican peppers and was first blamed on tomatoes, was linked to salmonella Saintpaul, a different salmonella strain than is involved in the current cases.

Salmonella typhimurium outbreaks have been linked to poultry, raw milk and cheese, and pet turtles said WebMD.  "We are reminding people that it is often difficult to trace the source or sources of salmonella outbreaks," Russell told WebMD, adding, "We don't have a potential source at this point."

WebMD noted that the CDC receives at least 40,000 reports of salmonella poisoning annually, with about 400 deaths reported.  It is believed that the actual number of cases is much higher—30-fold more, said WebMD—because less serious cases are often not reported.

Salmonella poisoning causes swelling of the lining of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis) that is responsible for about 15% of all cases of food poisoning.  Salmonella is most serious in infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems. In these individuals, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites, resulting in death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.  In addition, people who have had part or all of their stomach or their spleens removed, or who have sickle cell anemia, cirrhosis of the liver, leukemia, lymphoma, malaria, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are extremely susceptible to salmonella food poisoning.  Salmonella also has potential long-term health consequences, with some victims developing a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat form of reactive arthritis that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.  Reiter’s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis.

 


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