Just 3 percent of food poisoning outbreaks include case patients from multiple states, yet these multistate outbreaks account for the most fatalities stemming from food poisoning outbreaks, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 56 percent of all outbreak fatalities are associated with those that involve multiple states.
Multistate outbreaks also account for 34 percent of all hospitalizations and 11 percent of all illnesses associated with food poisoning outbreaks. Why do these less common outbreaks produce such serious illness?
Almost all multistate outbreaks can be attributed to just three kinds of bacteria: E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. All of them produce infections that can cause serious illness and death.
Discovering the source of these outbreaks can be challenging. A key piece of investigations are food histories from case patients, and it’s hard for people to recall all of the foods they have eaten over the course of several weeks. Sometimes, a contaminated ingredient can be incorporated into a number of foods. For these reasons it’s important that health officials quickly talk with those who became ill and for those who suspect they have food poisoning to start writing down what they have recently eaten as soon as possible.
Most foodborne bacteria cause symptoms within days of exposure. With E.coli, symptoms which include abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can be bloody, usually appear between one to four days. For Salmonella symptoms, including nausea, fever, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea that can be bloody, appear within six to 72 hours after contaminated food is ingested. But symptoms of a Listeria infection, which include stiff neck, fever, muscle soreness dizziness, disorientation and gastrointestinal symptoms, can take as long as 70 days after exposure to set in.
If you think you have food poisoning, make a list of food you have recently eaten and see a doctor. Tests on stool samples can determine if there is an infection from a foodborne pathogen.
Recent multistate outbreaks show just how serious illnesses from these pathogens can be. The cucumber Salmonella outbreak has sickened 767 people in 36 states. At least 157 people were hospitalized, four of them died. That outbreak was linked to cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed in the U.S. by Andrew & Williamson of San Diego. The cucumbers were sold at grocery stores and served at restaurants.
The Listeria outbreak linked to soft cheese distributed by Karoun Daires sickened 30 people in 10 states, hospitalizing 28 of them. Three people died and one woman who was pregnant suffered a miscarriage. Most of those sickened reported eating Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Mediterranean, or Mexican-style cheeses, including ani, paneer, feta, Middle Eastern-style string cheese, nabulsi or village cheese before they became ill. Brands distributed by Karoun were mentioned specifically.
And the E. coli outbreak linked to food served at Chipotle restaurants has so far sickened 41 people in Washington and Oregon, hospitalizing 14 of them. Health officials think produce items are the suspected food source including lettuce, onions, avocados, cilantro, onions, peppers and other ingredients in salsa.
Shiga toxins cause serious illness by damaging red blood cells. In some cases, this can trigger a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which leads to kidney failure. HUS, which most often affects children, can also cause seizure, stroke, coma and death.