Federal public health officials stepped up their warning today about pig ear treats for dogs as human illnesses related to the multi-branded products have now sickened 127 people in 33 states in a multi-drug resistant Salmonella outbreak.

The FDA and CDC today issued new consumer alerts and other updated product information. The outbreak was first revealed to the public on July 3. At that time there was a link between pig ear dog treats to salmonellosis suffered by 45 people in 13 states. That number jumped to 93 confirmed cases by July 17.

As of today, out of the 127 patients with complete information available, a third have been so sick they were admitted to hospitals. No deaths have been confirmed. Of those with complete information available, 21 percent are among children younger than 5 years old.

FDA and CDC are advising that consumers avoid all pig ear pet treats and retailers stop selling all pig ear treats at this time, according to statements from both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. 

Public health officials are urging consumers to check their homes for pig ear pet treats and throw them away in secure containers so no animals can get to them. Anything used to store or serve the pig ear pet treats should be cleaned and sanitized, including countertops, food bowls, and storage containers.

In a somewhat unusual move, an FDA official provided a specific comment on the outbreak situation.

“Multiple products have tested positive for numerous types of Salmonella resulting in two company recalls to date,” said Dr. Steven M. Solomon, D.V.M., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. 

“Given this and the links to human illness, we believe the most effective way to protect public health at this time is to warn consumers to avoid purchasing or feeding their pets all pig ear treats and for retailers not to sell these products. We also continue to advise those who may have come into contact with potentially contaminated products to practice safe hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands and disinfecting any surfaces that have touched pig ear pet treats. The FDA will provide additional updates as our investigation further progresses.” 

So far the two companies to recall pig ear pet treats are:

  • Pet Supplies Plus on July 3 notified the public about a recall of all bulk pig ear products supplied to all its retail locations by several different vendors, including Lennox Intl Inc.
  • Lennox on July 26 notified the public about a recall. On July 30, the firm expanded that recall and issued an additional public notification. The FDA and CDC have identified 43 human illnesses in this Salmonella outbreak linked to Lennox product that was first isolated in November 2018.

Federal and state officials are investigating several dog illnesses, some of which do not appear to be Salmonella infections. However, some of the sick dogs were not tested. Laboratory results on samples from other dogs are pending.

Traceability issues delay investigators
An FDA spokesperson told Food Safety News this afternoon that the outbreak investigation is particularly difficult because so many distributors and retailers deal in bulk bins of the pet treats. Different brands and producers are involved, especially when companies commingle treats to top off bins in retail locations.

The FDA has traced back some of the pig ear treats associated with the outbreak patients to sources in Argentina and Brazil. Some of these treats have tested positive for Salmonella, and further testing is ongoing to identify the Salmonella strain(s).

Additional sources for pig ear pet treats could be identified in relation to this human outbreak. Other specific brands, producers and places of origin could be discovered.

Information about Salmonella infections in humans
Human or animal food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has handled any of the implicated products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

Salmonella infections in dogs
According to the CDC and FDA some dogs with Salmonella infections may not look sick. Dogs with a Salmonella infection usually have diarrhea that may be bloody. Sick animals may seem more tired than usual, and may vomit or have a fever.

“If your dog or cat has these signs of illness, or you are concerned that your pet may have Salmonella infection, please contact your pet’s veterinarian,” the CDC’s update urges.

The FDA is asking consumers who believe their pets have illnesses related to the pig ear treats to report the illnesses to the agency. To report illnesses and file other complaints about pet food products electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal click here.

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