Children comprise 54% of the patients in the nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to imported cucumbers. That means at least 157 kids are sick in 27 states across the country. Why are children more susceptible to these infections?
Children are more susceptible because their immune systems are developing and haven’t reached maturity. When bacteria enter your body, your immune system responds and tries to kill the invaders. Proteins called antibodies mark the bacterial cells, then T cells destroy the bacteria with a process called phagocytosis. This process becomes stronger and more efficient as you age, then it starts to decrease in the elderly.
Children under the age of 5 are especially susceptible to bacterial infections, particularly E. coli and Salmonella infections. They will have typical symptoms of this infection including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and headache.
Children are also more susceptible to complications from foodborne illness and may require hospitalization. Dehydration is the main complication. Children do not have as much fluid in their bodies as adults do, proportionately. And it can be difficult for parents to get their child to drink water when sick, especially if the child can’t hold anything down and keeps vomiting.
This particular outbreak has a high rate of hospitalization: 33%. That is much higher than the typical rate of 20% in most Salmonella outbreaks. Public health officials are working to discover if the Salmonella Poona bacteria in this cucumber outbreak are antibiotic-resistant. If so, that could make these infections more difficult to treat.
Raw produce, including fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, are a major source of food poisoning. These items can be contaminated in the field, during transport, or during processing at a restaurant or grocery store. Since these foods are often eaten raw, and since children like simple foods such as cucumbers, they can be risky.
This ongoing outbreak has sickened at least 291 people in 27 states in the United States. The illnesses began on July 3, 2015, so the outbreak may have already been going on for two months before the public was notified. If you or your family members ate cucumbers this summer and have experienced the symptoms of Salmonella poisoning, see your doctor.
The cucumbers in question were grown and packed by Rancho Don Juanito in Mexico, and imported and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce in San Diego, California. They were sold to grocery stores and supermarkets in these states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
The cucumbers were called “Limited Edition”, stamped on the carton that only grocery and restaurant workers see. They are dark green, about 7 to 10 inches long, and 1.75 to 2.5 inches in diameter. They are typically known as “slicer” or “American” cucumbers. In grocery stores such as Walmart, they were sold in bulk bins with no identifying marks. They may have been used to make other foods prepared and sold in in-house delis (as in Canada).
As of September 4, 2015, the case count by state is as follows: Alaska (8), Arizona (60) [Arizona says they have 66 cases], Arkansas (6), California (51), Colorado (14), Idaho (8), Illinois (5), Kansas (1), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (12), Missouri (7), Montana (11), Nebraska (2), Nevada (7), New Mexico (15), New York (4), North Dakota (1), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (5), Oregon (3), South Carolina (6), Texas (9), Utah (30), Virginia (1), Washington (9), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (3). The median age of those sickened is 13, and as we said, most are children under the age of 18.
One person in California has died from their illness. This highlights the sad fact that these infections are to be treated seriously. See your doctor if you are ill with diarrhea, especially if it lasts for more than a few days. Early treatment is the best indicator of a good outcome.