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Friday 21st October 2016

Salmonella outbreak biggest ever

30th June 2008

The salmonella outbreak in the United States is the country's biggest ever, with reports of more than 800 people becoming sick with the bug.


Carried in tomatoes, the outbreak is being caused by a rare strain of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella saintpaul.

Authorities say it is not over yet, and that it is the biggest outbreak ever tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since April, a total of 810 cases of the disease have been reported across 36 states and the capital, Washington DC.

Patricia Griffin, head of the enteric diseases epidemiology branch of CDC, said the agency only gets reports of cases about 16 days after the person first gets sick. Therefore, the most recent case on June 15 may not be the last.

The source of the salmonella bug, which causes diarrhoea, possibly bloody, fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, remains unknown. Symptoms usually begin between 12 and 72 hours after infection.

Griffin said that this outbreak was the largest in terms of salmonella cases confirmed in laboratory tests. In 1985, a salmonella outbreak in milk is thought to have affected around 16,000 people, but most of these were not confirmed in the lab.

The US drugs regulator has sent investigators to several farms in Florida and Mexico to probe the entire distribution chain of tomatoes from the field to the dinner table, but they have not yet found the source of the contamination, and say they may now never know where it came from.

The FDA's associate commissioner for foods, David Acheson, said the investigation may not yield a 'smoking gun' pointing to the source of the bacteria.

Tomato suppliers typically repack boxes of tomatoes according to customer requirements, leading to wide-scale mixing up of tomatoes from various sources, grown both domestically and overseas.

The practice has hampered attempts to pinpoint the source of the disease, Acheson said.

None of the 1,700 samples of tomatoes collected so far by FDA teams for testing have shown any signs of Salmonella saintpaul.

Acheson said previous tomato outbreaks had also proved very difficult to trace, also because of the repacking problem.

While officials are also testing samples of salsa and guacamole that contain raw tomato, not all tomatoes are dangerous.

Tomatoes still on the vine, along with cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and homegrown tomatoes have been excluded as suspects.


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