Federal official are investigating an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella that has sickened at least 92 people and had been traced to raw chicken from multiple sources and sold under various brands.
The people with confirmed infections are spread across 29 states, according to an investigation announcement posted today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The patients range in age from less than 1 year old to 105 years old. Of those with information available, a third have required hospitalization.
No deaths have been reported. Confirmed patients have illness onset dates beginning Jan. 18 and running through Sept. 9. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is working with the CDC on the outbreak investigation.
Federal officials have contacted leaders in the chicken industry regarding steps they can take to reduce Salmonella contamination. Further investigation and interventions to reduce the prevalence of this strain should target both the live chicken industry and chicken processing facilities, according to the CDC.
Additional illnesses are expected to be confirmed partly because of the widespread Salmonella contamination at chicken farms and processing operations. Also, it can take several weeks to confirm and report illnesses after a person develops symptoms of salmonellosis.
“Of 54 people interviewed, 48 — 89 percent — people interviewed reported preparing or eating chicken products that were purchased raw, including ground chicken, chicken pieces, and whole chicken,” according to the CDC report. “Ill people reported buying many different brands of raw chicken products from multiple stores. Also, one person got sick after pets in their home ate raw ground chicken pet food. Another ill person lived with someone who works in a facility that raises or processes chickens.
“The outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis has been identified in samples from raw chicken pet food, from raw chicken products from 58 slaughter and/or processing establishments, and from live chickens. Samples collected at slaughter and processing establishments were collected as part of FSIS’s routine testing under the Salmonella performance standards.”
Whole genome sequencing of Salmonella isolates found in 43 of the patients and 68 food and environmental samples predicted the bacterial infections are resistant to multiple antibiotic traditionally used. The CDC is providing special advice to medical practitioners about treatment alternatives.
There are at least 13 antibiotics on the CDC list of drugs the outbreak strains are resistant to, including ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, streptomycin and tetracycline. Other antibiotics on the list are:
“Available data indicate that this strain of Salmonella Infantis may be present in live chickens and in raw chicken products. A single, common supplier of raw chicken products or of live chickens has not been identified,” according to the CDC outbreak notice.
Advice to consumers
Anyone who has handled or prepared raw chicken and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about the possible exposure to the bacteria. Special lab tests that are not routinely done are required to diagnose salmonellosis.
Symptoms usually begin 12 to 72 hours after exposure. Symptoms can include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. In otherwise healthy adults, the illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and many recover without treatment.
However, the diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body. In extreme cases, Salmonella infection can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
“Children younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 65 years of age, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe illness,” according to the CDC.
The CDC’s notice reminds consumers to practice food safety steps when handling and preparing raw chicken. It is very easy to contaminate counters, utensils and hands, spreading bacteria and other pathogens.
“Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils with warm, soapy water after they touch raw chicken. Use a separate cutting board for raw chicken and other raw meats if possible,” the CDC recommends.
“CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets. Germs like Salmonella in raw pet food can make your pets sick. Your family also can get sick by handling the raw food or by taking care of your pet.”
Raw poultry is known to harbor pathogens and requires. It should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F at its thickest part. For additional food safety tips, visit https://www.cdc.gov/features/salmonella-food/index.html. Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees F.