At least 14 patients at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit were diagnosed with Salmonella infections last week. While hospital staff members try to find out how the outbreak occurred, seven people remain hospitalized.
Hospitals officials said in a statement to local media that they did not believe the outbreak was caused by contaminated food. So how did they get a foodborne illness?
Salmonellosis is considered a foodborne illness because Salmonella bacteria are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, meaning that fecal matter containing the bacteria is ingested. If the food itself was not contaminated that leaves four possibilities.
One, a hospital employee who is a food handler showed up for work with a Salmonella infection, used the bathroom, did not wash hands properly and contaminated food eaten by patients.
Two, a hospital employee or visitor who had a Salmonella infection came to the hospital, used the bathroom, did not wash hands properly and contaminated non-food items or surfaces that patients touched. This is called secondary infections.
Three, a therapy animal had a Salmonella infection. Patients handled the animal and then ate without washing their hands first.
Four, a completely novel transmission method of Salmonella transmission is associated with the cases at Henry Ford Hospital.
Food Poisoning Bulletin contacted the Michigan Department of Health to find out which of these is the case, but did not hear back before publication.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella sickens approximately 1.2 million Americans each year, killing 450 of them. Those most at risk for Salmonella infection include children under the age of 5, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include fever, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can be bloody. These symptoms usually develop between six and 72 hours of exposure and last about a week. But it can take several months for bowel habits to return to normal.
Salmonella can also have long-term health effects. After initial symptoms resolve, a small number of people develop reactive arthritis which causes eye irritation and painful swelling of joints.
Recently there have been several high-profile Salmonella outbreaks including the Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers which has sickened 671 people in 34 states. Three people have died from their infections and 131 people have been hospitalized. A recall was issued by Andrew & Williamson which distributed the cucumbers in the U.S.
An outbreak linked to frozen breaded chicken products, such as Chicken Kiev, has sickened five people in Minnesota. Some of those products, made by Aspen Foods, have been recalled. Aspen recalled those with the establishment number “P-1358” and “best if used by” dates between July 14, 2016 and October 10, 2016 on July 15. But the company would not recall additional products after the U.S. Department of Agriculture found more Salmonella at its manufacturing plant. On September 17, the USDA issued a Public Health Alert for several brands of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products produced by Aspen Foods with the establishment number “P-1358” on the packaging and have “best if used by” dates between October 29, 2016 and December 16, 2016.