New Mexico Salmonella Victims Now Number 33, Other States Affected

A <"">Salmonella outbreak in several states —Salmonella St. Paul—has been linked to fresh tomatoes according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Deborah Busemeyer, the health department’s communications director, reports that as of June 2 there were 33 reported illnesses and eight hospitalizations in New Mexico; six other states reported at least one illness.  The first New Mexico illnesses were reported as early as May 6 and were linked to tomatoes purchased at Wal-Mart, Basha’s Supermarkets, and Lowe’s Markets; the variety and source of the tomatoes has not been determined, Busemeyer said.  “We bought a ton of tomatoes, and we’re in the process of testing them,” she said.  “We’re testing all different kinds.  We tried to take a wide sample,” she explained.  No deaths have been reported.

Busemeyer said Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Illinois, and Idaho each had at least one reported illness and the New Mexico Environment Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working on the traceback investigation.  A spokeswoman for the CDC said it planned to post information about the outbreak on its Website.

On June 2, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said 21 cases of Salmonella St. Paul were reported as of May 30; however, that state’s agency had not linked those illnesses to a specific source.  There had been several hospitalizations but no reported deaths.

State and county officials linked tomatoes to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 19 customers and three employees in October 2007 at a Minnesota Quizno’s.  In 2006, tomatoes were linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Newport affecting 109 people in 19 states.  Last year, Florida growers persuaded state legislators to institute a mandatory safety program to help prevent such outbreaks.

Last month, New Jersey state health officials said there were 28 confirmed and 42 probable cases of Salmonella infection on the Princeton campus and the FDA reported  at least 23 people in 14 states were sickened by the same strain of Salmonella found in two recalled Malt-O-Meal breakfast cereals.  About 64 patrons of the Casa Fiesta fell ill after eating there in late April; 36 cases were confirmed as a result of Salmonella contamination.  One man is suing for the hospital bills and hardships he claims he suffered from eating Salmonella-tainted food at Casa Fiesta.

Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage.  Salmonella is a common organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Generally, the illness lasts a week.  In some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.  Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.

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