Saturday, September 06, 2008

South Central Alaska Health Alert: Outbreak Of Campylobacter Enteritis Bacterial Infection In Progress, Raw Chicken May Be The Problem

Update September 11th: Source of contamination in this outbreak traced to a pea farm in the Matanuska Valley. Updated information posted in green.

On September 6th, 2008, KTUU Channel 2 reports that Alaska health officials are warning South Central Alaska residents of a bacterial outbreak that has affected dozens of people since early July. At least 32 people have been diagnosed with campylobacter enteritis, a bacteria found in raw or undercooked fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat and unpasteurized dairy products.

Symptoms include diarrhea that is often bloody, abdominal pain, weakness, fever, nausea and vomiting. But no one has died from infection, and most persons infected recover on their own. Nevertheless, officials are investigating to determine if there's a common cause or source.

For more information on the bacteria visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. The CDC website discloses that the majority of cases are associated with raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can infect a person. One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods. The Campylobacter organisms from the raw meat can thus spread to the other foods.

Kroger staged a food recall which included Fred Meyer earlier this summer, but only ground beef was recalled because of the possibility of e.coli, no chicken. Don't be surprised if this outbreak is eventually traced to chicken processing at a meat packing plant. The CDC suggests taking the following steps to prevent the spread of campylobacter:

- Cook all poultry products thoroughly. Make sure that the meat is cooked throughout (no longer pink) and any juices run clear. All poultry should be cooked to reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
- If you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking.
- Wash hands with soap before preparing food
- Wash hands with soap after handling raw foods of animal origin and before touching anything else.
- Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by using separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and other foods and by carefully cleaning all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin.
- Avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and untreated surface water.
- Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
- Wash hands with soap after contact with pet feces.

Update: On September 11th, the Anchorage Daily News reported that the source of the infection which is now known to have sickened 18 people was traced to a farm in the Matanuska Valley. All 18 people ate raw peas grown by Mat-Valley Peas in Palmer.

Mat-Valley Peas in Palmer sells the peas in 5- and 10-pound bags with cooking instructions that would have prevented the outbreak, but some retailers and sellers at farmers markets have repackaged the peas in smaller quantities and left out the cooking instructions, said Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist with the health department. The state has set up a hotline for those who may have eaten the local peas and suffered some or all of the symptoms. The toll-free number is 1-877-469-8067.

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