By James Peacock

            This month, an Alabama couple learned their vows, “in sickness or in health” meant more than just a profession of their love for one another. Several of their guests fell ill with Salmonella poisoning, which has been linked to food served at the wedding.

On November 16th, 2016, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that they were investigating a presumed outbreak of Salmonella poisoning linked to a catered event in Colbert County, Alabama. There are currently 77 cases of illness linked to this outbreak. So far, 12 people have been hospitalized as a result of their illness. Health officials have said that all individuals sickened in the outbreak are currently recovering. Interviews with infected individuals revealed that the source of the outbreak was the catered food at a wedding reception in Sheffield, Alabama. The reception took place on November 12th, just a few days before the first reports of illness began to appear. There were approximately 150 people at the wedding reception, so the amount of infected people may increase as the investigation progresses. Health officials maintain that there is no threat of Salmonella outbreak to the general public. This is because the illnesses related to this outbreak occurred in a private event during a specific time period. The Alabama Department of Public Health has been investigating the outbreak since November 14th, after they received multiple reports of gastrointestinal illness.

            Although health officials have not announced which catering service is the source of the outbreak, people sickened in the outbreak have identified Indelible Catering as the source of the contaminated food. The Moulton based catering company supplied chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes for the event. Since they first heard of the outbreak on November 14th, health officials have been conducting interviews and obtaining samples from both individuals and food from the event. Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers has stated that the Health Department will continue to follow up with patients and hospitals to ensure that all affected individuals are properly interviewed and tested. The state health department is in charge of testing samples. Samples taken from ill people have begun to test positive for salmonella, but there are still four samples taken from patients that are awaiting testing. None of the samples taken from food items have finished being tested. This is because test done on food items take longer to obtain results. Until the samples taken from food items are process, it is impossible to know the exact source of the Salmonella bacteria.

            Indelible Catering is cooperating with health officials, and has agreed to no longer prepare food for the rest of the investigation. Food from this catering company was also present at an event in 2014 in Decatur, Alabama. This outbreak sickened 17 people with Salmonella poisoning and two people with E. coli poisoning. There was one death reported in relation to the 2014 outbreak. Health officials have stated that the source of the 2014 outbreak was never found, because there were food items from multiple companies present at the event and no samples were ever taken from potentially contaminated food.

Salmonella infections are one of the most common forms of foodborne illness. Health Officials first tracked Salmonella in 1962, but they first detected Salmonella long before this time. Dr. Salmon first discovered the bacteria and its effects more than 125 years ago. There are many different strains of Salmonella bacteria, but all will cause illness in humans. The 32 different serotypes, or strains, of Salmonella bacteria help investigators pinpoint potential outbreaks, as well as their sources. Health officials have studied the incidence rates of infections based on the pathogen responsible. In many cases, scientists have established an average rate of infections, because people are always being sickened by foodborne illnesses. However, when the number of infections reported increases rapidly and suddenly, it is an indicator to health officials that an outbreak is taking place.

Health officials can then investigate the outbreak, usually by taking samples and by conducting interviews. There is sometimes a correlation between interview answers, which can help investigators locate a source. In this outbreak, investigators discovered that 17 of those sickened in the outbreak ate sprouts before their illness began. Although interviews can help locate potential sources, the best way for health officials to learn more about an outbreak is through the testing of samples. When medical providers retrieve samples from ill people or from the environment, the samples undergo testing to learn more about them. This type of testing reveals is the bacteria’s DNA fingerprint. This fingerprint, a solution of the process of pulsed field gel electrophoresis, is unique to the bacteria and strain involved in the outbreak. The DNA fingerprint is then uploaded to the PulseNet system. The PulseNet system is a database of DNA fingerprints maintained by the CDC. If a saved sample matches another sample, there may be a connection between the two. When multiple samples match through the PulseNet system, it is another clue to investigators about the origin and size of the outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella bacteria infects about 1.2 million people each year in the United States. This leads to the hospitalization of about 19,000 people each year. There are an estimated 450 deaths caused by Salmonella infections. A case of Salmonella poisoning will generally produce symptoms within 12 and 72 hours after infection. Usually, Salmonella infections will produce symptoms including vomiting, fever, abdominal cramping, and nausea. While a Salmonella infection may subside on its own within a week, the infection may worsen or cause severe dehydration. This may make hospitalization necessary. Those with certain risk factors, including the elderly, children, and those with suppressed immune systems may be at an increased risk of developing a serious Salmonella infection. Early diagnosis of Salmonella infection and treatment could greatly reduce the likelihood of future problems. It is important to keep in mind that meats should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any foodborne pathogens. Fruits and vegetables should also be thoroughly washed or cooked. Salmonella bacteria can be found in a variety of different products, so it is important to always be cautious. If you or a loved one begin to show the symptoms of Salmonella poisoning, contact a medical professional.