Cases of salmonellosis, better known as food poisoning, are on the increase across the country, with some states reporting more than 100% jumps in the incidence of the disease.
In 1983, the last year for which statistics are available, the Centers for Disease Control recorded 38,881 cases of salmonellosis, a 3.2% increase over the 37,683 cases reported the year before.
“During the past 16 years, the number of salmonella isolates reported to the CDC has continued to rise from the 19,659 isolates reported in 1968,” the CDC said.
The CDC said notable increases in salmonellosis cases occurred in Maryland, with a 183% increase in 1983 compared to 1982, Vermont, 119%, Indiana 105%, New Mexico 37%, Utah 34%, Oklahoma 33%, Alabama 31%, and New York 27% increase.
The reason for the increase is not clear.
More Salmonella in Food
Dr. Caroline Ryan of the CDC’s enteric diseases branch pointed out, however, “there is an increasing frequency of salmonella in our food products” in general.
Dr. Scott Holmberg, a CDC medical epidemiologist, said it is possible more food animals are infected because these days they are raised in smaller, more crowded spaces, rather than on the range.
The best way to avoid salmonellosis, according to Ryan, is adequate cooking of food, which kills the bacteria.
“Any food handler should be careful not to cook or prepare food if they’re ill,” she said. “Hands should be washed and chopping boards should be washed between the preparation of meat and vegetable products.”
Numbers Leveling Off
Ryan said the number of cases, though increasing, appeared to be leveling off.
There are about 1,500 varieties of salmonella bacteria, but all of them cause the same kinds of symptoms commonly associated with food poisoning--abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.
The disease is transmitted by ingestion of the organism in food contaminated by feces of infected man or animals, also in egg and egg products, meat and meat products and in poultry.
Although deaths are uncommon except in the very young or very old or dehabilitated persons, the infection can cause severe illness.
Typhoid Fever Cases
One of the potentially most severe types of salmonella infection is typhoid fever, caused by the salmonella typhi bacillus. Before the advent of sanitation laws, there were epidemics of typhoid fever in the United States with large death tolls. In 1983, the CDC recorded 525 cases.
Another variety of salmonellosis afflicted 18 persons in four Midwestern states who ate infected hamburger. The meat came from a beef herd that had been fed doses of an antibiotic for growth promotion.
“This demonstrated that antimicrobial-resistant bacteria of animal origin can cause serious human disease, especially among persons taking antimicrobials,” the CDC said.
A second investigation in California confirmed the findings of previous studies linking outbreaks of salmonellosis with the consumption of certified raw milk.
A third study in Puerto Rico associated pet turtles with 12 to 17% of salmonellosis infections among children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned interstate and intrastate commercial distribution of turtles under four inches long in 1975. But the CDC said pet turtles exported from the continental United States continue to pose a public health problem.