Salmonella outbreak linked to U.S. hits five provinces, but source still unknown

TORONTO — An outbreak of Salmonella has made at least 59 people sick across five provinces and appears to be linked to an outbreak in the U.S., but the source has yet to be identified, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in a notice on Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also investigating a Salmonella outbreak, and the agency noted that the genetic fingerprint in those cases appeared similar to the ones in Canada.

The Canadian outbreak, which began sometime in mid-June, has primarily affected people living in western Canada, with British Columbia reporting 23 cases, Alberta reporting 31, and Manitoba confirming 3. One person from Ontario and one from Prince Edward Island have also been identified. People between the ages of 11 and 77 became sick, with six hospitalized as a result.

Public Health cautioned that the number of people sick could rise as more reports come in. The current figure covers up to mid-July.

South of the border, more than 200 people spread across 23 states have become sick, according to the CDC, with 31 people hospitalized. The CDC characterized the outbreak as “rapidly growing in size”, with 87 additional people reporting being sick since July 21.

No one has died in Canada or the United States.

PHAC is exchanging information with its U.S. counterpart and is investigating the source in co-operation with provincial public health officials, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.

Salmonella bacteria, which occur naturally in animal intestines, are commonly transmitted through contaminated foods that come from animal sources like poultry, beef, and dairy, though fresh produce can also be a source.

PHAC recommends practicing safe hygiene habits including hand-washing for at least 20 seconds before handling raw meat and fresh produce, as well as after, and making sure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. 

Raw food should be kept away from other foods at all times – from shopping to storing to cooking. Never rinse raw meat, because the splashing water can spread the bacteria further. Additional safety recommendations can be found in the notice.

Symptoms, which typically kick in between 6 and 72 hours after exposure, include fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, and last between four and seven days. Children younger than 5, older adults, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk. Generally, anyone sick will recover after several days, and it is possible to be asymptomatic and spread it to others. It is also possible for someone with the bacteria to be infectious for several days to several weeks.

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