CDC has new questions about 39-state salmonella outbreak

Health officials have new questions about a deadly salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 900 people nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week.

Since the beginning of July, the CDC says 888 people in 39 states have been affected by the outbreak, which has been blamed on contaminated cucumbers that were imported from Mexico.

The outbreak has killed at least four people and sent 191 people to the hospital, the CDC said.

After an investigation, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce and Custom Produce Sales each initiated cucumber recalls in the first half of September as a result of possible contamination.

However, the CDC’s latest update on the outbreak said 106 people have fallen ill after Sept. 24, when all of the recalled cucumbers should have been either off the shelves or spoiled. That includes 50 people who have gotten sick since Nov. 19, when the CDC last issued an update.

The CDC said an investigation into the new illnesses is ongoing, and officials are trying to determine if cross-contamination from the recalled cucumbers could be to blame.

The organization is encouraging anyone who might have bought or sold recalled cucumbers to wash and sanitize drawers, shelves, crates or reusable grocery bags where the vegetables were stored.

The CDC has not yet determined any other food item that could be causing people to get sick.

Illnesses have been reported in every state except Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.

While the rate of reported illnesses has dropped since the recalls were issued, the CDC says it’s still above what is expected for this time of year. And the latest update indicated one person got sick in Tennessee, a state that had not previously reported any illnesses tied to the outbreak.

Salmonella usually triggers a mild illness that can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, the CDC says, and most people recover within a week without any treatment. But children, older adults and those with weak immune symptoms are particularly at risk of severe infections.

According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States get sick from salmonella every year. About 19,000 of them are hospitalized and about 450 of them die.

California has reported the most illnesses tied to this outbreak, with 241 people getting sick there. The CDC said that three of them died, though salmonella likely wasn’t a factor in two cases. The outbreak is also being blamed for one death apiece in Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas.

Foodborne Illness Responsible for 420,000 Annual Deaths

About 420,000 people die from eating tainted food every year and children are particularly impacted, according to estimates released this week by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The group, an arm of the United Nations, also estimates about 600 million people from around the globe get sick from eating food that has been contaminated by bacteria, toxins, chemicals and various other hazards every year. That’s just under a tenth of the world’s population.

The numbers were released after 10 years of research and published in the WHO’s Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases. The WHO says it is the first report of its kind.

Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, the director of the WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, said in a news release that the estimates were conservative and called for more data about the diseases to be made available. Before this research, the WHO said data were even more murky.

“But based on what we know now, it is apparent that the global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, affecting people all over the world – particularly children under 5 years of age and people in low-income areas,” Miyagishima said in the news release.

According to the report, the WHO estimates about 125,000 of the people who die from eating contaminated food will be children less than 5 years old. Those kids account for 30 percent of food-illness-related deaths, despite representing just 9 percent of the global population.

The vast majority of people who get sick from eating contaminated food get a diarrhoeal disease, according to the report. The WHO says these kinds of diseases are responsible for 550 million illnesses and 230,000 fatalities every year, and often times contracted when people eat undercooked or raw food tainted with campylobacter, salmonella or E. Coli. Children represent a large percentage of this group, accounting for 220 million illnesses and 96,000 deaths.

But there are more than 200 diseases that can be contracted through consuming contaminated food, the WHO said. Other notable illnesses include typhoid fever, hepatitis A and tapeworm.

While some might think of food poisoning as a short-term illness, the WHO cautions diseases contracted through unsafe food can lead to severe illnesses like cancer and organ failure.

The WHO says the people most at risk from getting sick are those in lower-income countries. It found that countries in Southeast Asia and Africa have the highest illness and death rates, and said poor hygiene, a lack of sufficient food safety laws and inadequate food preparation and storage techniques there are all connected to the increased risk of getting a foodborne disease.

More than 150 million illnesses and 175,000 deaths occur in southeast Asia, the WHO estimates. In Africa, those numbers topped 91 million and 137,000, respectively.

In the Americas, the WHO estimates 77 million people get sick and 9,000 die from tainted food.