Question of the Week

January 26, 2009


Reports of a nationwide Salmonella outbreak have peppered the news for the past months. Just last week (January 23, 2009), it was reported:

"A third Minnesotan has died after being infected with the salmonella strain implicated in a nationwide outbreak. Meanwhile, more food companies announced recalls of foods containing peanut butter supplied by a Georgia plant believed to be the source of the 43-state outbreak, bringing the total number of recalled products to around 200. ... Nearly 500 people across the country have been infected in the outbreak, and seven deaths have been linked to it. Minnesota officials this month were the first to link the strain to a 5-gallon peanut butter container at one of the Good Samaritan homes. ... The peanut butter linked to the outbreak was produced in a Blakely, Ga., plant and was sold in bulk to at least 70 firms, ending up in institutional kitchens and in an array of packaged products such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream, according to the Food and Drug Administration."

Around 200 products have been recalled, with the most recent list available from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"This list includes food products subject to recall in the United States since January 2009 related to peanut butter and peanut paste recalled by Peanut Corporation of America. This list will be updated as new information is received. This information is current as of the date indicated. Once included, all food recalls will remain listed. If we learn that any information is not accurate, we will revise the list as soon as possible."

With around 200 products affected, and 500 people reporting illnesses tied to the outbreak, many are concerned. While the outbreak is widespread, it is only one small portion of the thousands who are sickened by Salmonella each year.

"Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be thirty or more times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter. Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is about five times higher than the rate in all other persons. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons die each year with acute salmonellosis."

It may seem surprising to some that so many cases go unreported. However, not everyone realizes that the symptoms they are suffering are the result of a Salmonella infection.

"In general, salmonella symptoms begin with nausea and vomiting and progress to abdominal pains and diarrhea. Additional signs and symptoms include fever, chills and muscle pains, and can last anywhere from several days to two weeks. There are more than 2,000 types of salmonella bacteria, although fewer than a dozen types are responsible for most illness in humans. Other symptoms may be present depending on the type of salmonella germ causing your infection."

If this year is like most others, thousands of people will become infected with Salmonella, and hundreds will die.

"Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial infection of the intestinal tract. Salmonella typically live in the intestines of animals and humans and are shed through feces, where the bacteria remain highly contagious. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated food sources, such as poultry, meat and eggs."

While common, most cases are completely preventable.

"Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs, but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom. Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella. Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their feces. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy. Adults should also assure that children wash their hands after handling a reptile or bird, or after touching its environment."

Even though proper food handling and proper hygiene can greatly reduce the risk contracting a Salmonella infection, thousands are infected each year. Of these, not all are reported; of those reported, there are different views about the best form of treatment.

"Treatment for enteritis [one result of a Salmonella infection] or food poisoning is controversial. Some doctors recommend no antibiotics since the disease is self-limited, while others suggest using antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin for 10-14 days. Patients identified as immunosuppressed (for example, patients with AIDS or undergoing cancer chemotherapy) should receive antibiotics. Some investigators believe antibiotics prolong the carrier state. Treatment for typhoid or enteric fevers with septicemia is not controversial. Antibiotics, often given intravenously, are needed. ... Supportive therapy for both enteritis and enteric fevers consists mainly of preventing dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities (for example, abnormal levels of potassium and sodium ions) with fluids containing electrolytes (for example, IV fluids or oral fluids like sports drinks)."

Questions of the Week:
What do you and your peers need to know about the current Salmonella outbreak? What should you know about Salmonella in general? What are the best ways to prevent the spread and contraction of Salmonella? What should you do if you suspect that you or someone you know has a Salmonella infection?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site