The North Dakota Department of Health has announced that there is a Salmonella outbreak in that state. Since July 20, twenty-two cases of Salmonella Thompson have been reported. These infections all have the same genetic pattern.
That means that the infections probably came from a common source, but officials do not yet know what that is. They don’t know if a common food source, drink, or event made these people sick.
The bacteria are tested using a procedure called pulsed field-gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and their DNA is mapped, or fingerprinted. When two or more people have infections caused by bacteria with the same genetic pattern, an outbreak is declared.
Laura Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the Division of Disease Control said in a statement, “illness may be more severe in very young children, older individuals and those with underlying health problems or reduced immunity. People who experience symptoms consistent with a Salmonella infection should consider consulting with their health care provider.”
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that may be bloody, abdominal cramps, fever, chills, headache, and muscle pain. The symptoms usually begin six hours to three days after exposure to the bacteria. Most people recover within four to seven days, but some people get so sick from this foodborne infection that they need to be hospitalized.
Officials say that of the 22 cases, 14 are from Ward County, in the north central part of North Dakota. The other eight people do not live in Ward County, but did travel to that area before they got sick.
Croquets added, “these investigations are very complex when there is no obvious common exposure. One of the challenges is getting good histories from people. People can forget what or when they consumed specific food or drinks.” She suggests that patients check calendars, checkbooks, online account statements, restaurant receipts, and grocery store recipes to help them remember what they ate or drank.
The North Dakota Department of Health will collect information from randomly chosen people who have not been sick and will compare that information to data collected from patients to help narrow down the cause of the infection. Croquets asks that if a resident gets one of these calls, they will take time to answer questions because that may help solve the outbreak.
Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to everything from cucumbers to tomatoes to peanut butter, pork, chicken, raw tuna, and bean sprouts. Literally any food or drink could be contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria. The food may be contaminated in the farm field or on the farm, during harvest, in transport, or during processing.
If you have been sick with these symptoms and live in North Dakota, or traveled to Ward County, please see your doctor. The long term consequences of a Salmonella illness can be serious, including Reiter’s Syndrome, which can lead to reactive arthritis. Other complications include irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, and high blood pressure.