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The University of Maryland reported three students getting sick with Salmonella, two of the cases being confirmed at the outside medical facilities and the other one at the University itself. All the students have recovered, according to a press release.
The source of the infection is not yet clear, according to Dr. David McBride, Director of the University Health Center. Two of the sickened individuals ate at various dining facilities provided by the campus itself and the other one didn’t eat on campus at all.
“While there is no indication at this time that the source of the infection came from campus, we will keep the campus community informed once we learn from the state and county health departments if additional precautions should be taken,” Dr. McBride added to his statement. The Prince George’s County Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health are investigating the illness.
The press release also stated that “if you develop fever with diarrhea, persistent diarrhea longer than 48-72 hours or bloody diarrhea, you should contact your healthcare provider.” The press release also offered some tips to avoid food poisoning and salmonella infection in particular, like washing your hands properly after using the bathroom and preparing your food, avoiding cross-contamination by keeping raw meats separately from fresh produce and cooked foods and refrigerating perishable foods before they go into the danger zone.
Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the US. It causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalisations and 450 deaths each year. Food is the source of 1 million of these illnesses.
The incubation period of Salmonella infection is around 12-72 hours. Some of the most common symptoms include diarrhea (explosive, sometimes bloody), abdominal cramps, fever and nausea. As the symptoms match many pathogens that can cause food poisoning, a proper diagnosis using stool testing is done.
The symptoms can last for 2-5 days. Most people recover without any treatment. It is recommended that you maintain adequate hydration while you are sick. A lot of people with Salmonella infection are hospitalized to administer IV due to dehydration. Antibiotics are used to treat people that develop severe infection as a result of ingesting the bacteria. Use of antibiotics in uncomplicated cases is not recommended.
And now the big question is – how does it get into our food?
Salmonella is a bacteria that is naturally present in the guts of wildlife, birds and farm animals such as chickens, cows, etc. Due to this, the bacteria is found in their manure and environment around them. As a result, the bacteria also gets passed on to meat, eggs, poultry and dairy products. When these products aren’t properly cooked or adequately stored, the bacteria gets ingested by anyone who consumes it.
Once it enters the human body, it may or may not sicken them but they will become salmonella carriers too. They will shed them in their feces. Salmonella can stay inside the carrier for upto one year. When the carrier doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the restroom, they can contaminate other surfaces and food meant for consumption.
This is basically how bacteria gets transferred to food.
Fresh produce like leafy greens gets infected in a different way. They can spread to fruits and vegetables when they are fertilized with contaminated manure, irrigated with contaminated water or comes in contact with the bacteria during processing, packing, cutting, washing or preparation process.
How to stay safe?
Salmonella outbreaks are quite common in food preparation settings like restaurants and food processing units. As food gets prepared in large quantities here, a single mistake can jeopardize the health of many people. However, by maintaining proper storage, preparation techniques and storage, salmonella contamination can be effectively tackled.
Here are some ways to avoid it:
Salmonella can be dangerous for your establishment and can ruin its reputation – but adhering to these simple rules you can prevent yourself and your staff from getting sick.
Are there any long term effects of Salmonella food poisoning?
Even though most people recover from the illness within a few days, their bowel movements may not return to normal for several months.
Although rare, some people might develop pain in their joints as a result of Salmonella infection. This is called reactive arthritis. It can for months to years and can ultimately lead to chronic arthritis. Antibiotic treatment for Salmonella doesn’t make a difference in whether or not a person develops arthritis. People with arthritis may also suffer from painful urination and irritation in the eyes.
If you are a student at Maryland, it’s important that you keep yourself updated with any further information on the outbreak. As the source of the outbreak is not yet clear, you shouldn’t avoid anything at the campus as the contaminated food could have come from outside as well. The best way to stay safe is to follow all the food safety rules and keep an eye on any outbreak update.
By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)