Canada: Salmonella outbreak prompts alert


Health officials hunt for mystery source of contamination after at least 64 cases hit B.C.

Pamela Fayerman, Vancouver Sun

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Source of Article:

Public health officials have issued an alert about a food poisoning outbreak that has hit at least 64 B.C. residents in the past few months, nearly double the 39 cases in all of 2007. More cases are expected this week.

"People have to cook food properly to avoid these infections from contaminated food sources," Dr. Eleni Galanis, a BC Centre for Disease Control physician-epidemiologist, said Monday.

About 50 public health officials across B.C. are involved in an investigation to find the mystery source of the food poisoning cases, caused by a strain called salmonella enteritidis. Reports of cases have come from all parts of the province, but most of those afflicted have been residents of the Lower Mainland who provided stool samples to laboratories for testing.

No one has died from the infection but a few people have been in hospital as a result of their symptoms, which include diarrhea, cramps, vomiting and fever.

About a third of the cases have received antibiotic treatment from a doctor or hospital.

Salmonella enteritidis is usually spread through contaminated eggs, poultry, other meats and fresh produce. Galanis said there isn't a single food, farm, store or restaurant that has been implicated so far.

"It's been somewhat frustrating because the usual sources are poultry, eggs or produce. ... But we're not finding any patterns yet so we're exploring rare sources, like other meats.

"There are occasionally promising leads, but every time we think we've got one, it hasn't panned out," she said.

Agencies involved in the investigation include the BCCDC, health authorities, the provincial agriculture ministry, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the federal Public Health Agency.

Individuals who have tested positive for the infection are being interviewed to find out what they did in the days before they started having symptoms, including where they ate and any events they attended.

If they have leftover food still in their fridges, samples are being sent to labs for testing. Inspectors are buying foods that have been mentioned so they can be tested.

Restaurants and farms will be inspected if there are common foods and sources that appear to be tied to the outbreak.

Galanis conceded it is possible that health officials will never find the culprit.

"We expect the number of confirmed cases will rise this week, but we also think the cases may soon start to plateau. It's possible we won't solve this and the outbreak will burn out naturally," she added.

A large United Kingdom study found that one in 700 eggs contained the S. enteritidis strain, so it is important to cook eggs before eating them and to wash hands after handling raw eggs.

The salmonella strain isolated and circulating in B.C. is not the same as the one connected to 1,300 illnesses in the United States over the past few months. Last week, U.S. health officials announced they had zeroed in on raw jalapeno peppers from Mexico as the culprit.

Initially, U.S. investigators had focused on tomatoes as the possible source. Now they are trying to pinpoint the region or farm responsible for distributing the peppers, which were tainted with a strain known as salmonella stpaul.



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