An estimated 89 people from 15 states and the District of Columbia have been infected with Salmonella in an outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Thursday.
This was CDC’s first public acknowledgment of its involvement in the outbreak investigation, which is related to 50 Salmonella illnesses already reported in Illinois and associated there with Jimmy John’s sandwich outlets.
“Preliminary results of this investigation indicate a link to eating alfalfa sprouts at a national sandwich chain,” the CDC said.
Earlier this week, sandwich chain exec Jimmy John Liautaud had written to franchisees in Illinois, asking them to remove alfalfa sprouts from menus as a precautionary measure. He said health authorities had informed him that 25-28 of those recently stricken with Salmonella had reported eating at Jimmy John’s restaurants.
The CDC said that in addition to the Illinois cases, there have been single cases confirmed with the outbreak strain (Salmonella serotype 4,,12:i:-) in Connecticut, Washington D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Three cases have been confirmed in Wisconsin, nine in Indiana and 14 in Missouri.
Because the pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern associated with this particular Salmonella serotype commonly occurs in the United States, the CDC cautioned that some of the cases identified may not actually be related to this outbreak.
Among 81 people for whom information is available, the onset of their illnesses ranged from Nov. 1 to Dec. 14, the CDC reported. Illnesses that occurred after Dec. 2 might not yet be reported to the CDC, because it takes an average of two to three weeks from when a person becomes ill to when the illness is reported.
The CDC said the case patients range in age from 1 to 75 years, with a median age of 28. Sixty-eight percent of them are female. Among those cases in which information was made available to the CDC, 23 percent reported being hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
CDC said it is collaborating with public health officials in many states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify new cases and to try to trace potentially contaminated products.
Most persons infected with Salmonella, which is responsible for more than a million illnesses a year, develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. About 378 deaths a year are caused by Salmonella, according to CDC estimates. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.
Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts, the CDC said. Most of these outbreaks were caused by Salmonella and E. coli.
To reduce the risk of illness, the CDC recommends that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).
Sprouts should be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of illness. The CDC suggests that consumers request raw sprouts not be added to their food.