September 3, 2014

North Carolina Salmonella Outbreak Strain Is Rare

Salmonella Paratyphi B, the pathogen at the heart of an outbreak near Asheville. N.C. that has sickened at least 37 people, is a rare substrain of a common bacteria. So rare, in fact, that this is the first time the bacteria has caused a foodborne illness outbreak in North Carolina.

“There has never been one before,” said Mark Van Sciver, public information officer with the North Carolina Department of Health And Human Services.

Salmonella bacteria are the most frequently reported cause of foodborne disease in the Unites States causing 1.4 million illnesses and more than 400 deaths each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

The Salmonella family includes more than 2,300 substrains but just two of them- Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium account for half of all infections, according to the USDA. Between 1998 and 2009, there were 458 foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Salmonella Enteritidis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During that same period, just three outbreaks were caused by Salmonella Paratyphi B.

Since 2009, there has been just one other Salmonella paratyphi foodborne illness outbreak. That outbreak was linked to consumption of raw ahi tuna and sickened 13 people in Hawaii, according to the CDC. During the last five years, the bacteria has also caused two non-food related outbreaks, both were linked to handling small, pet turtles.

Currently, at least 37 people in the Asheville area have been sickened in an outbreak that began in late February. The Buncombe County Department of Health Department is investigating the outbreak, but has not yet identified a source.

Yesterday,  Asheville-based Smilng Hara, issued a recall of unpasteurized soybean tempeh due to possible Salmonella contamination after product samples tested positive for Salmonella during a routine inspection by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Addtional testing is needed to determine if the Salmonella matches the outbreak strain.

The incubation period for a Salmonella paratyphi infection ranges from one to four weeks. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, fever, severe headache, and spotty skin rash. Health official urge anyone with these symptoms to see a health care provider.

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