ATLANTA — Raw tuna, mostly from sushi, may be at the heart of a recent salmonella outbreak that stretches across nine states.
The outbreak, which started back in March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has made at least 53 people sick. The bacterium at the heart of the outbreak is the Salmonella paratyphi B variant.
While patients have reported being sick in nine states, most of the cases are concentrated in Southern California or in people who reported traveling to the area. Most of the victims reported eating sushi containing raw tuna in the week before they became ill, according to the CDC.
A cluster of 31 cases is in California. There are 10 more cases in Arizona, six in New Mexico, and one each in Mississippi, Illinois, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
No one has died from this latest outbreak, but the illness has been severe enough that at least 10 people have been hospitalized, including a 1-year-old.
There are “sometimes risks when eating raw or undercooked meats, fish or poultry,” Dr. Karen Smith said in a California Department of Public Health news release. “This is particularly true for young children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems who may be at an increased risk of severe illness.”
The CDC says people in those categories should always avoid raw fish or shellfish, outbreak or not, as these people are naturally more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses.
While local and state health departments continue to interview patients sick with salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration said it is increasing its monitoring of tuna. The agency is trying to trace the outbreak to its source and is looking at records to find a common source of tuna.
The FDA said in a news release that it is a “labor intensive and painstaking work, requiring the collection, review and analysis of hundreds and at times thousands of invoices and shipping documents,” meaning it could be a while before the agency determines the exact tuna that is making people sick. Once the FDA figures that out, it will work with the manufacturer to get it out of stores or restaurants, and typically, the FDA will send out an alert so people can avoid eating it.
If you are worried you have salmonella, the signs of the disease are fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Typically, people come down with symptoms in the first 12 to 72 hours of infection and are often sick with it from four to seven days. Most people can recover from the bacterial infection without treatment, but sometimes it can spread from the intestines into the bloodstream, causing symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. Salmonella infections can also cause death.
The good news is there is treatment for people with salmonella. Doctors use antibiotics to treat the infection and also typically provide supportive care with fluids for diarrhea.
All the departments involved in this outbreak said they will continue to investigate the cases.