In the last three weeks, the Virginia Department of Health has recorded more than 50 suspected cases of gastrointestinal illness, caused by the salmonella bacteria, in the Northern Virginia area. Causing concern with health officials across the region, citizens and businesses have been asked to take special care in the preparation and cleanup of their food.
"We want to remind people that anywhere food is prepared outdoors, it can happen." said Lucy Caldwell, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health. "We want people to report when it happens so we can get to the root of the problem."
ACCORDING TO CALDWELL, the Northern Virginia region, consisting of Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax, and Arlington counties, and the City of Alexandria, documented 151 incidents of salmonella in a year-to-date study. With suspicion of 50 new cases, roughly one-third of the proven salmonella-caused illnesses from the past seven months, there is concern for public health.
"Salmonella is passed two different ways," said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Department of Health and Human Services. "Either meat is not cooked long enough, or it happens through hand-to-hand contact."
While it is not unusual for rates to increase slightly during the summer months, the recent suspected increase is still cause for concern. According to the Virginia Department of Health Web site, last year saw 308 reported cases of salmonella caused illnesses in Northern Virginia. While the 151 proven cases this year puts Northern Virginia on average with last year’s numbers, a possible increase of one-third pushes our region far ahead of the curve. Even more, Caldwell said that the rest of Virginia is seeing declining rates in salmonella poisoning — the Northern Virginia area is on the rise.
HEALTH OFFICIALS are encouraging the public to learn about the causes and signs of gastrointestinal illness. The most common symptoms of this illness include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping and vomiting. In rarer instances salmonella poisoning can cause blood infections. Symptoms, which can occur within one hour to three days after infection, should be dealt with by drinking large quantities of water or visiting the hospital if illness turns severe.
If symptoms are a result of eating at a restaurant or catered event, the Virginia Department of Health urges the public to report the incident immediately so that it can be investigated.