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Salmonella Outbreak at Princeton University

May 2, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

New Jersey state health officials are investigating six confirmed cases of salmonella at Princeton University to determine if they are related to 70 other cases of stomach illnesses there.  Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, said health officials would interview those patients reporting a stomach illness since last week.  Cass Cliatt, Princeton spokeswoman, confirmed that the patients who tested positive for the salmonella bacteria had more severe symptoms than the others, who possibly caught an unrelated virus.

University doctors started testing for salmonella last Friday when they noticed an unusual number of students reporting stomach problems, Cliatt said.  At that time, doctors began recording patients' recent eating histories.  The first findings of salmonella came back Tuesday.  A common source to explain the illness has not been determined.

Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or do not sanitize implements involved in meat storage.  Salmonella is a common organism that 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 and abdominal pain and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of Salmonella; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed.  Generally, the illness lasts a week and most recover without treatment; however, in some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.  Severe cases can result in death if not treated.

Without treatment—antibiotics—severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.  A small number of persons infected with Salmonella will go on to develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination—a condition called Reiter's syndrome—which can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis; antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person later develops arthritis

Salmonella made the news last month when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) reported that at least 23 people in 14 states—including New Jersey—were sickened by the same strain of salmonella found in two breakfast cereals recalled by Malt-O-Meal.  On April 5, cereal maker Malt-O-Meal voluntarily recalled some packages of unsweetened Puffed Rice and unsweetened Puffed Wheat cereals due to possible salmonella contamination.  The FDA reported that the recalled Malt-O-Meal products were distributed nationally under the Malt-O-Meal brand name and were also distributed under private labels that include Acme, America's Choice, Food Club, Giant, Hannaford, Jewel, Laura Lynn, Pathmark, Shaw's, ShopRite, Tops, and Weis Quality.  In March, some Aunt Jemima Pancake & Waffle Mix products were recalled for potential salmonella contamination, including a small quantity of Aunt Jemima Pancake & Waffle Mix:  Original, Original Complete, and Buttermilk Complete.


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