Tainted cantaloupe from Indiana tied to two deaths, 50 illnesses in Kentucky

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2012 

A strain of salmonella associated with two deaths and 50 illnesses in Kentucky since early July has been found in cantaloupes tested by the state, public health officials said Friday.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Steve Davis issued a statement advising Kentuckians to avoid eating cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana. When buying a cantaloupe, health officials said, consumers should check for a sticker on the melon that says where it was grown or inquire about its origin with the store.

"In addition, health care providers are encouraged to be mindful of patients who may have symptoms consistent with salmonellosis and report all cases to the local health department," Davis said.

Illnesses have occurred statewide, and many counties have people who have been sickened, including some in Central and Eastern Kentucky, said Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Cases in Kentucky are most concentrated around Owensboro and in far Western Kentucky, where both deaths occurred, Fisher said. She did not have additional details on the deaths.

In Lexington, there have been two confirmed cases of people becoming ill from the same strain of salmonella that was found in the tainted cantaloupe, according to the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. Officials haven't confirmed that the individuals ate tainted cantaloupe, said Luke Mathis, an environmental health team leader.

Salmonellosis cases caused by the outbreak strain also have been reported in other states.

An epidemiological investigation and lab testing showed the cantaloupes, which evidence indicates were grown in southwestern Indiana but purchased in Kentucky, carried the same strain of salmonella causing the ongoing outbreak, Fisher said.

In addition, an investigation continues into other clusters of salmonella cases in Kentucky, which might be linked to cantaloupe or watermelons.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating with public health officials in affected states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate the ongoing outbreak, including tracing the source of the affected melons and shipments of melons that might have been contaminated.

No Kentucky-grown cantaloupes have been associated with the outbreak, Fisher said.

Salmonella infections are relatively common, generally resulting in diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that occur 12 to 72 hours after infection. Infection is most often diagnosed by culture of a stool sample. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, Fisher said.

Salmonella is a bacterium that can be found in the intestines of animals.

In general, the FDA recommends thoroughly washing and scrubbing the rinds of all cantaloupes and melons before cutting and slicing, and keeping sliced melons refrigerated before eating.

If you think you have experienced symptoms of salmonellosis, contact your health care provider.

If you have a question, contact your local health department or the Kentucky department for Public Health's Food Safety Branch at (502) 564-7181.

More information about salmonella may be found at CDC.gov/salmonella.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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