TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials are investigating a nationwide outbreak of salmonella, possibly linked to produce, that has sickened at least 172 people in 18 states and left 11 people hospitalized.
The bacteria may have spread through some form of produce, possibly tomatoes, the officials said. But the outbreak has yet to be linked to any specific food product, food-distribution chain, restaurants or supermarkets, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're very early in the investigation," Dave Daigle, a CDC spokesman, told the Associated Press.
There are no reported fatalities in the outbreak, officials said.
Last month, an outbreak of E. coli contamination in fresh, packaged spinach killed three people and sickened more than 200 people in 26 states and one Canadian province.
Health officials have traced the spinach outbreak to a ranch in California's Salinas Valley, where it is believed that wild boar may have carried the bacteria from cattle feces to nearby spinach fields.
In the new outbreak, announced Monday night, CDC officials said they first noticed a problem two weeks ago through a national computer lab system that looks for patterns and matches in reports of food-borne illness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has joined the investigation and will try to help trace the outbreak to its origin, the AP reported.
The states involved are Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin.
Most of the cases are in adults, and more than 60 percent are women, Dr. Chris Braden, a CDC epidemiologist investigating the outbreak, told the AP.
Salmonella is a germ that causes a bacterial disease called salmonellosis. The typical symptoms included diarrhea, fever and stomach pain, which start up to three days after people become infected. The symptoms usually go away after one week. But some people have to see a doctor or be hospitalized because the diarrhea is severe or the infection has affected other organs, according to the CDC.
There are about 2,500 types of salmonella. The type in the new outbreak -- salmonella typhimurium -- is one of the most common, Braden said.
According to the CDC, people can get salmonellosis by eating contaminated food, such as chicken, eggs or produce. However, animals can carry salmonella and pass it in their feces. Therefore, people can also get salmonellosis if they don't wash their hands after touching the feces of animals. Reptiles (such as lizards, snakes, and turtles), baby chicks, and ducklings are especially likely to pass salmonellosis to people. Dogs, cats, birds (including pet birds), horses, and farm animals can also pass salmonella in their feces.
To learn more about salmonella, visit the CDC.