Investigators assess uptick in NC salmonella cases

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH ó An uptick in North Carolina illnesses associated with a nationwide salmonella outbreak has state health investigators worried, and joining the scramble to identify the source.
State experts have confirmed 14 cases in North Carolina as of Friday, and they believe those numbers will continue to rise. Investigators are working to identify trends that could tip off the source of the bacteria, and theyíve given particular focus to Charlotteís Mecklenburg County, where six cases have been detected.
ěWeíre concerned,î said Dr. Jeffrey Engel, the state epidemiologist. ěThis is a national outbreak. Weíre seeing an uptick of these cases in North Carolina, so weíre concerned. The uptick in cases in Mecklenburg ó thatís where weíre focusing now.î
Two cases have also been identified in Wake County, and one case has been confirmed in each of Brunswick, Guilford, Forsyth, Sampson, Rutherford and Bladen counties.
Every year, North Carolina has some 2000 cases of salmonella ó largely from raw eggs, undercooked chicken or simple errors such as a child drinking out of a dog bowl.
But the 14 salmonella cases are of particular concern because they are of the same subtype, salmonella Saintpaul, that has spread across the country, apparently because of contaminated food. The national number of cases has topped 1,000, with the first sickness beginning on April 10 and the latest starting on June 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC first reported a case in North Carolina on June 16 ó about two months after the outbreak began. Engel said the numbers have started to climb as more people and doctors have learned about outbreaks elsewhere and kept a closer watch on sickness.
Federal health investigators have yet to pinpoint the source of the strain. They initially blamed raw tomatoes but this week expanded their list of suspects to include jalapenos and cilantro. The government advises people to continue avoiding certain raw tomatoes ó red round, plum and Roma ó unless they were grown in areas cleared of suspicion, and theyíre asking people prone to illness to avoid raw jalapeno and serrano peppers.
Cases have spread to most states in the country from coast to coast. While most of the reports have been in the Southwest, from Texas to Arizona, there are also other pockets: Illinois and Maryland, for example, also have high rates.
North Carolina has far more cases than South Carolina, which has two, but far less than Virginia, which has 29.
ěAlthough our numbers are lower, weíre working with other states to get to the bottom of this,î Engel said.
Though North Carolina products have been on FDAís safe list, agriculture department spokesman Brian Long said some tomato growers in the state have had trouble selling their product across borders. But local growers have noticed increased demand at farmerís markets.
ěSome of seen adverse affects, others have seen positive affects,î Long said. ěItís certainly raising awareness of buying local. But we certainly donít want to see any linger affects on consumer confidence.î
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