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Health department investigating Salmonella outbreak

 COVINGTON, Ga. - The Newton County Health Department is investigating an outbreak of Salmonella. Illness onsets have ranged from late April to mid-May. The outbreak was reported to our office on May 4.

Salmonella is a bacterial illness that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Illness may be severe, however, most individuals recover without treatment. In addition, asymptomatic illness may occur. Illness generally begins 12 to 72 hours after infection and can last for four to seven days. CDC reports that Salmonella causes approximately 1.2 million illnesses per year.

Salmonella is a reportable disease in Georgia and as such, all cases are investigated to determine if there are commonalities among cases. Our focus in investigating these cases is to provide education to limit the spread of disease and mitigate and potential sources of infection.

At this time, the investigation is ongoing and we do not have a definitive source of infection for all of the cases. Most of the cases associated with this outbreak are linked to an isolated event that occurred in Newton County on April 28. This outbreak does not appear to be linked to the nationwide Salmonella outbreaks that have recently been in the media. Initial testing of the individuals involved in this outbreak has identified Salmonella Enteritidis at the bacteria that is making individual ill. Because the testing process can be lengthy, we are still waiting for final results on many individuals who have been tested.

The spread of Salmonella can be limited through following food safety and infection control guidance.

CDC and FightBac, a partnership between CDC, FDA and USDA, have a wealth of education and prevention messaging that can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/general/prevention.html and http://www.fightbac.org/. Steps including hand washing, cooking foods thoroughly, washing fruits and vegetables, and ensuring steps are in place to stop cross-contamination in the kitchen are great tools in preventing foodborne illness. Ill individuals can spread Salmonella to others, so measures including hand washing, staying home when you are ill, and not preparing food for others while ill can limit the spread of infection.

The Health Department investigates all reports of illness on an ongoing bases and encourages individuals to report illness to allow for prompt investigation. Illnesses can be reported by calling our Foodborne Illness Hotline at 770-339-4BUG. If you have questions regarding your health, please contact your physician. If you have general questions about Salmonella, please contact our office at 770-339-4260 and ask to speak with the Epidemiologist on call.

“We’re awaiting the results from health department experts to determine the source of the outbreak," Covington-Newton Chamber President Ralph Staffins said. "Until the determination is made, we trust in the rigorous inspection processes that food service companies in Newton County go through to ensure their customers’ safety. Our restaurants are open for business.”