June 19, 2018

Firefly Salmonella Outbreak: Illnesses Usually Underreported

The Salmonella outbreak linked to Firefly on Paradise restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada has sickened at least 89 people, including 86 patrons and 3 employees. But the actual illness count may be much higher. Why?

SalmonellaThe seating capacity of the restaurant is 85 people. The restaurant was open from 11:30 am to 2:00 am every day. A conservative estimated turnover of five per table per night means at dinner, Firefly could serve 425 people. Double that for the lunch crowd. The people who were sickened ate at the restaurant on six days: April 21-26, 2013. That means that, at the very least, more than 5,000 people were potentially exposed to the outbreak strain of the Salmonella bacteria, depending on whether the source was an ill employee, a problem in the restaurant management, or contaminated food or drink.

When public health officials estimate the number of foodborne illnesses, they use a “multiplier” because these illnesses are so underreported to authorities. Many people who are sickened in an outbreak do not visit the doctor; their illness is manageable enough that they ride it out. Others who are very sick visit the doctor but their illness is not properly diagnosed for lack of information or other reasons. For Salmonella, the multiplier used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 30.3. Multiply that by 86 confirmed cases, for a total of 2,605 possible ill persons.

What does this mean for you? If you ate at the Firefly on Paradise tapas bar in Las Vegas, Nevada in April and became ill with any symptoms of Salmonella, including vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, fever, chills, headache, and/or muscle pains, see your doctor immediately. Ask for a stool culture for Salmonella. You may still be shedding bacteria after your symptoms have resolved, which means you could infect others with the bacteria, and you may need treatment.

In addition, long-term health effects of Salmonella can be severe. Patients can develop reactive arthritis and myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart; colitis; and infection of the bone marrow. If you were sickened in this outbreak, it’s important that you seek treatment and are monitored for these possible side effects.

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