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Rise in salmonella cases prompts health officials to issue tips on prevention

by 5m Editor
21 June 2005, at 12:00am

NORTH CAROLINA - A rise in the number of Salmonella cases around North Carolina have prompted stated health officials to issue some tips on prevention of the food-borne illness. A variety of Salmonella bacteria are known to exist, but the type that is causing the most concern due to the rapid rise in the number of cases in the state is Salmonella enteritidis.

Rise in salmonella cases prompts health officials to issue tips on prevention - NORTH CAROLINA - A rise in the number of Salmonella cases around North Carolina have prompted stated health officials to issue some tips on prevention of the food-borne illness. A variety of Salmonella bacteria are known to exist, but the type that is causing the most concern due to the rapid rise in the number of cases in the state is Salmonella enteritidis.
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According to public health officials, the North Carolina Laboratory of Public Health has detected more cases of Salmonella enteritidis in the first six months of this year than in the same six-month period in the past three years combined-five times as many as for the same period in 2004. Health officials label the trend "a troubling rise" in the incidences of the illness.

Other states in the region are experiencing similar increases in the number of cases of the food-borne illness. The increase has prompted state public and environmental health organizations, as well as with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to work hand in hand in an effort to halt the trend.

Salmonella enteritidis causes fever, nausea, abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after eating food or drinking a beverage contaminated with the bacteria. Most people become ill enough to see a doctor, and some people must be hospitalized, a few with life-threatening complications.

Salmonella enteritidis usually lasts four to seven days and most victims recover without antibiotic treatment. However, the diarrhea can be severe. The elderly, very young children, and individuals with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of developing serious illness and should visit a health care provider immediately if they develop these symptoms, health officials say.

In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites, and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antiobotics.

Outbreaks of the illness can be associated with eggs, beef, poultry, and unpasteurized (raw) milk. However, because most of the recent outbreaks in North Carolina have been associated with eggs, health officials are focusing on educating the public on how to minimize the risk of contracting the illness from this food source.

Though eggs can be an important source of nutrition, Salmonella bacteria can be found inside of eggs that seem to be normal. When eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacteria can cause sickness and even death, health officials emphasize.

They point out, however, that people can do a lot to protect themselves against contracting the illness by using proper handling and storage of eggs.

A few safety rules to help avoid egg-borne Salmonella illness include:

  • Don't eat raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs, like cookie dough, blender drinks, homemade mayonnaise, or homemade ice cream. Don't even lick the bowl. Instead, use a pasteurized liquid egg product or pasteurized in-shell eggs if the food will not be cooked before eating.

  • Buy clean eggs. Choose Grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shells. Open the carton before you buy and make sure that the eggs are clean, not cracked, and have been refrigerated in the store. Any bacteria present in an egg can multiply quickly at room temperature. Don't wash eggs.

  • Keep eggs refrigerated. Store eggs in their carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door, and use within three to five weeks. The refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees (five degrees centigrade) or slightly cooler. Don't leave cooked eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. When baking or cooking, take out the eggs you need and return the rest to the refrigerator. Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator, not at room temperature, and use them within one week.

  • Freeze eggs for longer storage. Break the eggs, beat the yolks and whites together, and put in a freezer container. Egg whites can be frozen alone. Use frozen eggs within one year.

  • Cook eggs until yolks are firm. Many cooking methods can be used to cook eggs safely, including poaching, hard cooking, scrambling, frying and baking. If you prefer soft-cooked eggs, use pasteurized in-shell eggs (available in some supermarkets) or pasteurized liquid egg product. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees (71 degrees centigrade) as measured with a food thermometer. Serve cooked eggs and dishes containing eggs immediately after cooking, or place in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate at once for later use. Use within three or four days.

  • Cleanliness is very important. Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with warm, soapy water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods. Hands should also be thoroughly washed after using the bathroom and after touching pets, especially reptiles, as animals can carry the bacteria.

Bladen County Health Director Wayne Stewart said, in a Monday interview, that to his knowledge, there have been no outbreaks in the county in the past two months, but was not sure about the preceding months because he did not become health director until late March.

He said, however, that some cases go unconfirmed because the individuals who have the illness either do not go to a doctor, or the doctor does not confirm the illness by a test.

He pointed out that outbreaks of a disease can go undetected if none of the victims experience severe symptoms.

Stewart's background in public health was in environmental health and a primary part of his job in that role was in food inspection. He said most of the outbreaks of Salmonella he became involved with during his time in the environmental health arena resulted in symptoms appearing about 24 hours after exposure.

"I used to love to lick the bowl when I was little boy, but now that I'm aware of the risk of salmonella and other food-borne illnesses, I know better," said Stewart. "You can get quite sick from something as simple as licking a spoon that has cake or cookie batter on it."

Stewart emphasized that Salmonella bacteria is easy to destroy and that adequately cooking eggs or other foods that can contain the bacteria is a simple and foolproof way to ensure that it is not present when the food is consumed.

Source: Hong Kong Government - 23rd June 2005

5m Editor