Local Missouri news outlets report that two dozen people are confirmed sick with Salmonella infections from a currently unknown source in Cole County, Missouri. The Cole County Health Department have stepped in and commenced an investigation into the confirmed illnesses. The health agency is in the process of testing specimen samples from those who have become ill in hopes to discover what strain of Salmonella is involved. Test results from the Missouri State Health Laboratory are currently pending.
The Cole County Health Department has confirmed that there is no particular source the department can trace, and the agency has not discussed any potential leads. While testing is pending, the county health department is trying to spread the word, even via social media, in hopes other victims will come forward and report their illnesses.
With an unknown source of contamination and unknown strain, it is difficult for the health department to indicate their theories on the outbreak. The Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell told a local news outlet that the agency has not yet identified the outbreak source. In a separate interview, she commented, “With food illnesses, many times you never truly find the source. But the best way to try and find out is by interviewing the people that have gotten sick, and that's what is happening now. We are asking all kinds of questions, including has anybody else in their family been sick. We'll make a spread sheet and look for common denominators.”
Testing is critical to create leads for the investigation. Director Campbell claims that testing, “… should show what specific type these folks have … The lab results are important to finding what we're dealing with.”
Salmonella is one of the most common forms of foodborne illness in the United States. Modern medicine has known for over 125 years that Salmonella causes illness. Due to underreporting, it is estimated that as many as 2 to 4 million cases of salmonellosis occur in the United States annually. About 1 million cases are actually reported each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are “19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.”
The Food and Drug Administration has reported Salmonella outbreaks linked to “raw meats, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products, fish, shrimp, frog legs, yeast, coconut, sauces and salad dressing, cake mixes, cream-filled desserts and toppings, dried gelatin, peanut butter, cocoa, and chocolate.” Springtime is an especially routine time of year for Salmonella infections. Director Campbell commented during another interview that “[a]t this time of the year, there are many events or businesses that have baby chick days, and the chicks can spread salmonella very quickly. So anytime you're handling the chicks, afterwards, wash your hands. We can't stress that enough,” Salmonella outbreaks have also been linked to live poultry, especially backyard farms and flocks. In 2016, there were 895 cases of Salmonella (and three deaths) in 48 states linked to live poultry and backyard flocks.
The CDC provides guidance concerning the signs and symptoms of Salmonella. According to their website,
“Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment. In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites. In these cases, Salmonella can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.”
This is concerning as, in more severe cases, someone can be hospitalized or suffer long term complications. These can include reactive arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. In rare instances, Salmonella can also cause blood infections (bacteremia), endocarditis (infection of the heart's inner lining), and infected aneurysms (arterial infections).
The Cole County Health Department recommends that anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of a Salmonella infection seek medical attention. Director Campbell confirmed the same during her interviews.
The Local Health Agencies Urge the Community to Be Cautious
As Director Campbell mentioned, spring is an especially concerning time of year for Salmonella. Director Campbell offered additional tips concerning Salmonella prevention. She urges the community to remember to keep hot food hot (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above) and cold food cold (at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below). “Proper preparation of food is the best away to avoid salmonella,” she said to Jeff Haldiman of the News Tribune.
Most Foodborne Illnesses Go Unreported
Most foodborne illnesses go unreported in the United States each year. Local and state health agencies urge patients diagnosed with food poisoning to report their illnesses to public health authorities. In a 2009 interview with WebMD, Ian Williams, PhD, chief of the OutbreakNet team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mentioned that only a tiny fraction of food-borne illnesses are reported or recognized. Dr. Williams cited the CDC’s latest report at the time and commented that report mentions that “better surveillance and investigation would help control disease by pinpointing causes, such as improper food handling practices.”
To make it easier to report instances of serious foodborne illness in your state, UnsafeFoods.com has amassed a fifty state list of health departments and their contact information.
Continuing Coverage for Parents and Family Members
For more information, please visit UnsafeFoods.com, where we will be following the details of this outbreak and providing continuing coverage. Routine updates will be posted as new information is found and released. Medical attention is recommended for anyone showing the signs and symptoms of Salmonella infection. Salmonella can be diagnosed through a stool sample.
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