By Margarita Nahapetyan
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to trace the source of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 388 people in 42 U.S states, sending 18 % of them to the hospital. An outbreak has been going on since last fall. The source still remains unknown, U.S. Health officials said on Friday and added that even more cases are being expected.
"Cases are continuing to occur, and it is an ongoing investigation," said Dr. Rajal Mody, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer. "The first people began getting ill in September, but it usually takes several weeks before enough cases have been reported to start noticing a possible outbreak."
The CDC said poultry, cheese and eggs are the most common source of this particular strain, known as Salmonella Typhimurium, but the CDC also adds that any kind of food, including vegetables, can become contaminated if they come into contact with feces from an infected animal.
"It is often difficult to identify sources of food borne outbreaks. People may not remember the foods they recently ate and may not be aware of all of the ingredients in food. That's what makes these types of investigations very difficult," said CDC spokesman David Daigle.
The bacteria causes nasty diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after contact with the germ. Infections usually diminish in five - seven days and often don't require any treatment other than making sure you drink enough liquid.
In some, rare cases, the Salmonella bug can take a severe form and spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body, causing serious illness or death in young children, the elderly, and people with impaired immune systems.
Although the CDC has not named all of the affected states, Health officials in California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio have confirmed cases. Ohio and California reported the most, with 50 and 51 cases accordingly, and Michigan reported 20 cases, including 7 hospitalizations, 9 cases have been identified in Tennessee.
In recent years, some of the food poisoning outbreaks (the so-called Salmonella Saintpaul bug) have been caused by fresh fruit and vegetables: at first health authorities thought the infections were caused by raw tomatoes only, but the following testing led also to cantaloupes, jalapeño and Serrano peppers grown in Mexico, cilantro, peanut butter, cereal and pot pies, and handling pet food.
The best protection against Salmonella is careful handling of raw meat, frequent hand washing and not eating raw or undercooked meat, CDC says. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria. Cooking meats thoroughly eliminates pathogens common in chicken and ground beef. Some food experts even recommend to keep raw chicken and meat apart from food that is not going to be cooked. People also should not consume unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.
There is another reason which might be causing the spread of a dangerous bacteria: cross contamination, which occurs when, for example, the same knife or other tools are being used to cut raw meat, eggs, poultry and afterwards being used to cut fresh vegetables and fruit without thorough washing of the tools between food types.
Wiping and cleaning hands with the same dish towel, wash cloth, or paper towel, that was used to wipe up dishes, cutlery, cutting boards, food spills etc. also encourages cross contamination.
Now the major goal for CDC is to interview people who got sick and try to pinpoint what they may have consumed and then compare the lists to determine a common cause.
The CDC works with the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate the outbreak.