At least 4 Floridians are among the 317 victims of a 20 state plus Puerto Rico antibiotic-resistant Salmonella outbreak resulting from undercooked Foster Farms chicken.
Salmonella bacteria live in animal and human intestines and are shed through feces. Typically, within 8 to 72 hours of ingesting contaminated food or water, individuals develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Some experience chills, nausea and vomiting lasting up to seven days. Most otherwise healthy people will recover within a few days without specific treatment. However, for those with weak immune systems, including infants and the elderly, the infection can be deadly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has tracked the source of the current Salmonella outbreak to raw chicken products raised and processed in Foster Farms facilities at three Central Valley California locations with packaging codes f: P6137, P6137A and P7632.
Although most (232) of the people sickened by the contaminated chicken are Californians, victims have been identified in Alaska (2), Arkansas (1), Arizona (13), Colorado (4), Connecticut (1), Hawaii (1), Idaho (2), Kentucky (1), Michigan (2), Missouri (5), New Mexico (2), North Carolina (1), Nevada (9), Oregon (8), Texas (9), Utah (2), Virginia (2), Washington (15), Wisconsin (1), Florida (4) and Puerto Rico (1).
The youngest patient was less than 1 year of age, the oldest was 93.
Medical experts all agree that the decision to furlough government public health officials and to close down PulseNet, a national network of public health labs critical to tracking this kind of food-borne outbreak, has been unfortunate. CDC director Thomas Frieden called the lack of staff and website support "an imminent threat to health and safety.”
Because the investigation has been negatively impacted by the shutdown there is still incomplete information about each case. The exact numbers of people infected may not be accurate since it generally takes 2 to 3 weeks from the time someone becomes ill until the cause is officially documented. However, based on the data so far, authorities believe that the first person probably became ill around March 1st, the most recent around September 1st.
Of the seven different strains of the Salmonella Heidelberg identified, some are resistant to commonly used antibiotics including ampicillin, chloramphenicol, tetracycline and streptomycin which makes the illness much more difficult to treat. Almost half of those who became ill had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported.
According to a press release on Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is working with government shutdown furloughed CDC epidemiologists called back to work on Tuesday as result of the emergency.
Dr. Anna Marie Likos, director of Florida’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection advises all Floridians who have eaten the suspect chicken and experienced symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps to seek medical attention.
State health officials are not planning a recall, but said it is essential that chicken be cooked to 165 degrees. The USDA recommends that consumers use a food thermometer as the only way to be sure the proper temperature is reached.
For more details: see Salmonella Outbreak Investigations: Timeline for Reporting Cases.