By: Pooja Sharma

Wyoming Department of Health Officials have discovered cases of Salmonella in the Fremont County. A total of six cases of Salmonella have been linked to a gastrointestinal outbreak in the central part of the state. WDH has been dealing with multiple clusters of gastrointestinal cases in several public settings including schools and child care centers.

The Ranger reports that Fremont County Public Health Spokeswoman Teresa Nider said that the Health Department has received several reports of gastrointestinal illnesses at different places which prompted the officials to visit the area to investigate last week. She also mentioned that the information on the total number of illnesses is not yet known. And it has come out time and again that the number of reported infections are much less than the actual number of illnesses. It is estimated that for every case, there are 38.6 infections that are undiagnosed and unreported. So, there are high chances that there are some other clusters and illnesses that the health department does not yet know of.

Not all the sick people have tested positive for Salmonella, even though almost all of them show symptoms that are all prevalent in Salmonellosis. The laboratory confirmation on these cases are negative. There is also no confirmation on whether or not the cases are related to each other.

What is the source of this outbreak?

Sources of Salmonella can be tricky to find. When two or more people get sick by the same illness that they acquire from the same contaminated source, they are said to be a part of an outbreak. Wyoming was recently part of a Salmonella outbreak that affected 48 states resulted in 1120 illnesses, 490 hospitalizations and 1 death. All of these cases together were a part of 10 separate multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections. All the infections were linked to live poultry and livestock. All the people who contracted the disease were in contact with the live poultry in their backyard flocks. Outbreaks that are related to live poultry have increased over the years as more and more people are keeping backyard poultry.

Salmonella bacteria is widely present in food animals such as poultry, pigs, and cattle and in pets such as dogs, cats, birds etc. It is present in their intestine. These animals do not show any obvious symptoms which can detect Salmonella in them. Salmonella can survive in meat and animal products if they are not properly cooked. And this is what makes them the most common source of infection.

The sources of the Salmonella can be varied and does not necessarily restrict to meat and poultry. The multistate deadly Salmonella outbreak which ended just now was linked to Maradol papayas. So, even fruits and vegetables can get infected by the bacteria. This can happen during handling or during the agricultural process. Fruits and vegetables can come in contact with the infected poop of an animal during the agricultural process. Another source of how the bacteria gets into fruits and vegetables is in facilities and during transportation. This is how cases of Salmonella outbreak has also been linked to nuts and seeds.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella?

Symptoms of Salmonella include: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, etc. Most cases of Salmonellosis are mild and do not pose any serious threats. However, sometimes these can be life threatening. The severity of the illness depends on:

  • The type of serotype. Different serotypes can behave differently depending on how often they sicken people, when and where the people get sick and the sources and foods that are associated with the outbreak.
  • The severity also depends on the type of individual affected by the bacteria. Elderly, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune system are at a higher risk of development of complications due to this illness. Blood infection, meningitis, irritable bowel syndrome and reactive arthritis are some of the most common complications of Salmonella.

Considering the cases of Salmonella in this Wyoming outbreak is affecting schools and childcare centers, we need to know about the complications that the children can face if they are the age group most affected by Salmonella.

What are some precautionary measures to protect against Salmonella?

  • First precaution is something that you have heard multiple times. Cook your meat, eggs, fish and poultry properly to a right temperature. Do not buy unpasteurized milk. Avoid eating raw eggs, so do not have raw cookie or cake dough.
  • If you have a backyard flock then you need to maintain some extra precautions while dealing with chicks.
    • Always make sure that you washing your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap and water after touching birds or the area where they live. You should advise your children to strictly do this.
    • Children younger than 5 should not be allowed to handle the chicks or any other livestock or poultry without adult supervision.
    • Do not let poultry enter inside the house. Maintain a separate living space for them.
  • If you are at a restaurant and are served uncooked meat and poultry, then feel free to send it back. Ask questions even if you are unsure if the meat is properly cooked or not.
  • Wash your hands properly after touching raw meat, poultry and fish. Keep cooked meat separate from the one. The juices from raw meat should also not touch the cooked one.
  • Wash your hands if you come in contact with feces of birds, dogs, cats or poultry.

If you live in Wyoming and notice any symptoms of Salmonella, it is recommended that you get yourself checked by a physician as soon as possible. Make sure that your child is following appropriate sanitation practices, since the Salmonella clusters are quite prevalent in child care centers and schools. If he shows any symptoms of Salmonella, then schedule a check-up immediately. We will provide you updates on the Unsafe Foods blog as and when we have information on the sources.