As of February 14, 2013, Salmonella has infected 124 Americans in 12 states, resulting in 31 hospitalizations (32 percent of cases), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The particular strain which has affected the nation since June of 2012, Salmonella Heidelberg, has been found in infants up to patients of 94 years, with a median age of 23.
Salmonella outbreaks tend to occur in warmer months, and result from irresponsible food handling, usually on a massive scale. This outbreak is currently linked to chicken, as with many Salmonella cases, with the highest volume occurring in Washington and Oregon.
The U.S. is no stranger to Salmonella outbreaks, as they seem to recur with frequency due to the nation’s inclination towards indolence and cutting corners. Within the week, a 2009 outbreak of salmonellosis was addressed in court. Prosecution for fraud and conspiracy was brought against former officials of the Peanut Corporation of America, as they wittingly dispensed and sold Salmonella-infected peanuts nationwide – causing 714 infections in 46 states. Though the outbreak was not the largest in our nation’s history, the carelessness of the company made a mark on the Department of Justice. This particular outbreak was a demonstration that even large corporations allow major slips that can lead to fatalities.
Read more about the intriguing PCA lawsuit at Wired.
One year after the peanut ordeal, in 2010, an eggshell-induced epidemic infected a reported 1,939 people in the United States. Keep in mind that federally reported cases also usually undermine the number of actual infections, and the CDC cannot account for every case, thus many more were likely sickened. This strain was Salmonella enteritidis, tracing back to two Iowa egg suppliers whose egg water and chicken feed were contaminated. Though each of these cases is long gone, Salmonella enteritidis has been a common strain found in foods throughout the United States, and therefore we should all exercise caution when buying and preparing certain products.
Salmonella and Your Health
Salmonella, which causes salmonellosis, is a group of bacteria (with fun little legs that crawl around your food microscopically) responsible for the most cases of foodborne illness in the United States. Though most commonly found in raw poultry, eggs, and beef, it also can latch onto unwashed produce grown in less-than-ideal conditions. Outbreaks can take place on a lesser scale among regular consumers, or in larger force, infecting restaurants, institutions, hospitals, and catered events. The disease is not just an American problem: cases have been discovered internationally, though mainly concentrated in North America and Europe, likely due to Western reliance on mass-production.
Aside from (and including) the scandalous outbreaks, Salmonella causes 40,000 CDC-reported cases of salmonellosis each year in the U.S. alone. Individuals with weak immune systems due to age or chronic illness, such as AIDS, are most likely to have multiple episodes or become seriously ill. Children are usually more susceptible to getting infected.
While Salmonella bacteria strains vary based on their country of residence, the regulars in America are S. typhimurium and S. enteritidis. Certain strains have become immune to several antibiotics prescribed to treat salmonellosis, making it increasingly more difficult to treat the disease.
Salmonella infections are not only accessible through meat and produce. You can get an infection from touching a surface which has been in contact with contaminated meat, or from produce grown in contaminated soil. Handling pets can also lead to a case of salmonellosis, especially with reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and turtles. While it usually goes away after about 4 to 7 days, the infection may spread or become chronic even without symptoms.
Anywhere from 12 hours to 3 days after being infected, these symptoms are likely to persist for 4 to 7 days:
- Abdominal cramps
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Most people who develop salmonellosis usually rid themselves of infection within 5 to 7 days and do not require treatment. Though, if your diarrhea is severe, your doctor may want to administer fluids intravenously. Additionally, the infection may spread from your intestines to the bloodstream, thus requiring antibiotics. Ampicillin is a common medication used in treating heightened Salmonella infections, however certain strains have adapted to resisting these drugs, so speak with your doctor about potential alternatives.
If you or a relative belongs to one of the groups with a higher risk of complications, consult a doctor immediately. When the immune system is not in check, salmonella may lead to Reiter’s syndrome or typhoid fever. Reiter’s syndrome can persist for months or years, causing arthritis and other painful symptoms. If the syndrome is not treated effectively, Salmonella can travel from the intestine to other organs through the blood, which can be fatal in some cases.
Typhoid fever can only develop from S. typhi bacteria, which can cause death if not treated, though is not particularly common in the U.S. It is usually found in contaminated water, and affects 21.5 million people worldwide each year, with only 400 of which being American. 75 percent of U.S. cases of typhoid fever result from visiting other countries. Various nonprofits are working to cut down the prevalence of water contamination in affected countries, making travel and living more safe.
How Health Insurance Can Help
While the majority of people will be able to let the infection pass through their bodies and eventually disappear, certain cases require medical help. If you are unsure of your symptoms or still experience them after 7 days, it is in your best interest to consult a doctor. Utilizing your medical coverage during a case of salmonella is essential, as you can more easily connect with a provider who can test your stool and find out if you are infected. If necessary, it will be much more efficient to get a prescription antibiotic to help fight the bacterial infection through a trusted in-network doctor.
Especially if you have a pre-existing condition or are elderly, using your risk pool or Medicare coverage is mandatory to access the care you need. While as an uninsured person, you can seek care at a community health center, you may not be able to get a timely appointment, and with a retail clinic, you will have to pay more than you would covered. Bottom line: keep your intestines and your wallet safe and use your insurance (if you are able to obtain it).
1. Image: Healthtap.com
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Chicken.
3. Maryn McKenna. Wired. “Sh*t, Just Ship It”: Felony Prosecution For Salmonella-Peanut Executives.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigation Update: Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Enteritidis Infections Associated with Shell Eggs.
5. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Salmonellosis.