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Salmonella Outbreak Hits 42 States

388 Sick, No Deaths So Far; Source Unknown
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 7, 2009 -- An ongoing salmonella outbreak has sickened 388 people in 42 states, the CDC said today.

At least 67 people have been hospitalized; no deaths have been reported. Victims of the outbreak range in age from less than 1 year to 103.

"We are collaborating with public health officials in 42 states, the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate an ongoing multistate outbreak of human infection with Salmonella typhimurium," CDC spokesperson Lola Russell tells WebMD.

The CDC has not released the names of the states involved. However, the Ohio Department of Health says in a news release that there have been 50 cases among residents of that state, making Ohio the state with the second most cases.

An FDA spokesperson says the agency is working closely with the CDC to identify the cause of the outbreak. If the CDC determines that the illnesses were caused by an FDA-regulated product, the spokesperson says, the FDA will perform a "traceback" investigation to determine the specific product linked to the outbreak and how that product became contaminated.

The salmonella strain is a common one. Salmonellatyphimurium is the same type of salmonella that in 2007 sickened 401 people in 41 states, Russell says. A CDC investigation traced the 2007 outbreak to undercooked not-ready-to-eat Banquet brand frozen pot pies.

The recent salmonella outbreak traced to peppers (and possibly tomatoes) was the saintpaul strain, a different type of salmonella.

Previous outbreaks of Salmonella typhimurium have been traced to poultry, raw milk and cheese, and pet turtles.

"We are reminding people that it is often difficult to trace the source or sources of salmonella outbreaks," Russell says. "We don't have a potential source at this point."

Localized salmonella outbreaks are not uncommon. Every year, the CDC receives reports of some 40,000 salmonella cases, with about 400 deaths. Because less serious cases are not reported, the actual case number is estimated to be 30-fold higher.

Kids under age 5 are five times more likely to get salmonellosis than others.

Here's the CDC's advice on how to prevent salmonella infection:

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised people.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.

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