Louisiana officials are investigating a suspected foodborne illness outbreak in Caldwell Parish that has sickened hundreds, possibly killing one, according to local media reports Wednesday night.
Neither the Louisiana Department of Health nor the parish websites had information about the investigation, but Parish Sheriff Clay Bennett told the Monroe News-Star newspaper’s Ashley Mott that he and at least 100 other people are sick. He said reports started coming in Monday night in the Northeast Louisiana parish, which is on Interstate 20.
Mott reported the sheriff, as well as a number of his department’s employees and other sick people reported having eaten jambalaya at a recent fundraiser for a softball team. Bennett said the specific cause is not yet known and stressed that many things could have caused the illnesses. The department employees became ill Tuesday.
The state health department issued a statement to local media confirming that an autopsy has been ordered on the body of a 56-year-old man, Duane Reitzell, to determine if food poisoning played a role in his death.
“At this time the LDH is investigating the cause of the illness and working to learn how many people have been impacted,” according to the statement. “At this time, we are not sure if this virus is contagious or not, but it is a good reminder to stay home if you are ill and practice proper hand hygiene.”
The state health department did not indicate whether testing had showed a virus, rather than bacteria or parasites, is the suspected cause of the illnesses.
As with all foodborne illness investigations that include a public event, epidemiologists on the case in Caldwell Parish can work faster if the public reports information to health officials. Even people who do not become ill can be helpful in ruling out possible sources from public events, especially if more than one food or beverage was served.
The scope of the outbreak was not known Wednesday evening as health department offices were closed for the day hours before the news of the illnesses broke.
A director of a local bank who is also on the Tensas Basin Levee District board reported more than 10 people left the Homeland Bank on Tuesday because they became sick.
“Everybody is trying to figure out what’s going on,” bank director Drew Keahey told the News-Star reporter. “No bigger than we are, when there are 200 people in the hospital, everybody knows somebody who is sick.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne illnesses that strike soon after exposure have symptoms that include some or all of the following: abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
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