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Food poisoning victim count nears 160 in jambalaya outbreak

A week after softball fundraisers served up jambalaya in a Louisiana town of about 400, state health officials reported a food poisoning victim count of 158, with 40 hospitalized.

One person who ate the jambalaya has died, but it is not yet known whether a foodborne pathogen was the cause of death. Health officials ordered an autopsy this past week on the body of Duane Reitzell, 56, in hopes of making that determination.

“Officials are working with the pathologist responsible for the autopsy and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to determine if post-mortem testing can be performed by the CDC,” according to an update posted Monday by the Louisiana Department of Health.

The department’s epidemiologists continue to ask anyone who ate the jambalaya to call 800-256-2748 to assist with the outbreak investigation. They are still trying to identify the specific ingredient or ingredients that contaminated the jambalaya, which has tested positive for at least one pathogen.

Even people who have not become ill can be of help in narrowing down the specific source of the bacteria, which is particularly difficult with multi-ingredient foods such as jambalaya.

Epidemiologists have been working to determine the cause of the outbreak since the evening of Monday, Oct. 16, when people in and around Columbia, LA, in Caldwell Parish began reporting illnesses.

By Friday, investigators had confirmed two types of bacteria in victims’ laboratory tests, Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium commonly found on raw meat and poultry. Both it and Salmonella can be foodborne and both multiply very quickly to very dangerous levels if food is not prepared and held at correct temperatures.

“Health officials are also testing samples of the jambalaya meals that are believed to be responsible for the outbreak,” according to the state update on Monday.

“To date, 19 food samples have been tested with five testing positive for Salmonella. The results for the remaining 14 samples are still pending, and state officials are sending the samples to the CDC for further testing.”

Most of the 40 food poisoning victims who had to be admitted to hospitals because of the severity of their symptoms have been discharged, the state department reported Monday. The age range for the 158 victims is 10 to 82 years old.

“The second pathogen may explain why so many people have gotten ill and became ill so quickly,” Dr. Parham Jaberi, assistant state health officer, said in the update.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection usually begin within six to 72 hours after exposure, although they can begin up to a week after exposure. Symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever.

Clostridium perfringens infection symptoms also include diarrhea and abdominal pain, but usually do not include vomiting or fever.

People with infections from either of the bacteria are at high risk of developing dehydration, which frequently necessitates hospitalization.

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