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Canadian health officials say that an outbreak of salmonella that’s hit particularly hard in the western part of the country may be related to cucumbers, although they’re still investigating other potential vectors. Here is what you need to know about this potential Salmonella Cucumber outbreak.
So far, the outbreak has sickened some 45 individuals in five different Canadian provinces. As of the time of this writing, British Columbia was the hardest hit, with 37 confirmed cases. Reports have also come in of affected individuals in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. One individual in Quebec also got sick after travelling to British Columbia. Right now, it doesn’t look like the outbreak has spread to Canada’s eastern provinces, with the traveller from Quebec to British Columbia representing the easternmost individual sickened during the outbreak.
Many of the individuals who have fallen ill reported eating cucumbers beforehand. So far, however, no evidence has emerged to definitively link cucumbers to the outbreak, and officials are stressing that they’re not yet sure of the cause. Other potential sources are still being considered, and more information is still needed.
Nine Canadians have been hospitalized by the outbreak so far. No deaths have been reported as of the time of this writing. As is often in the case with salmonella outbreaks, there’s a wide range in the ages of those affected; Canada’s Public Health Agency reports that the youngest victim is one and the oldest is 92. That’s probably because the very young and the elderly often lack the robust immune defenses that are needed to repel unwanted pathogens like salmonella and are at higher risk of foodborne illness than other segments of the population.
The first signs of the outbreak came early in the summer. According to Canada’s Public Health Agency, the first sickness they believe to be related was registered the week of June 17th; another followed on the 1st of July. The bulk of the cases broke in mid-August, with an epidemiological curve indicating that 28 cases came in during the last two weeks of August.
It’s often hard to see the shape of a salmonella outbreak while it’s happening. Linking different cases of food poisoning together is often tricky; the patients are often geographically quite distant from one another, and the cases can be spread out across a long period of time as well. In order to verify that a cluster of cases constitutes an outbreak, investigators have to do a fair bit of legwork. Samples of the pathogen in question need to be collected from different patients so that their genetic fingerprints can be compared in a lab. If the bacteria have identical or near-identical genes, it’s a good indication that they’re related to one another and likely came from a common source.
Genetic testing can tell us whether pathogens are related, but it won’t tell us how exactly people fell ill from those pathogens. For that step, investigators usually need to interview victims about their eating and purchase history in the time leading up to their illness. If several patients report eating the same thing, the next step is usually to track down samples of said food items in their fridges or in stores for further testing. That leads to testing at the different businesses that grew, processed, packaged, transported, or sold that food to determine the original source of the infection.
The outbreak may have crossed international borders. Public health officials in the state of Washington (which, as you may know, shares a border with Canada) are also looking into a rash of salmonella illnesses that seem to be linked to cucumber.
The Washington State Department of Health said on Friday that they’re looking into six different cases of salmonella spread across the state. All the victims were infected with the same strain of salmonella, with the last illness reported on the 15th of September. Five out of six of those affected reported that they’d bought and consumed English cucumbers from different Costco stores in Washington. The cucumbers were wrapped together in packs of three apiece and sold between the 18th of August and 10th of September.
Canadian news website CBC.ca reported that public health officials in Canada and Washington are working together to determine whether or not the salmonella illnesses are related to one another.
Salmonella is the most common type of foodborne illness. Sickness usually comes on 12 to 72 hours after exposure and can last for four to seven days. If you’re unlucky enough to get some salmonella in your system, you’ll likely experience a rash of typical flu-like food poisoning symptoms, including nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Fevers and headaches are also typical of salmonella poisoning.
For healthy adults, salmonellosis is an unpleasant but survivable experience. For the very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised, however, the illness can be much more serious. In some cases, it can warrant hospitalization; occasionally, it can kill victims or leave them with long term consequences to their health.
One such long term consequence that’s been described in the literature is rare but quite serious; sometimes, salmonella infections lead to painful urination, irritation of the eyes, and soreness in the joints. This condition is called reactive arthritis, and it’s not usually a passing concern; the conditions can persist for months or years, and sometimes they lead to chronic arthritis. Such reactions aren’t common, but they’re a distinct possibility for the immunocompromised and should be taken seriously as a possibility. If you’re recently dealt with a salmonella infection and are experiencing some of these symptoms, you should speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.
If you believe you have developed a Salmonella infection, we want you to know that a Salmonella Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.
If you or a loved one have become ill with Salmonella after eating or handling raw chicken products, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)