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42 in state hit by salmonella; 3 victims in county; state rate 3rd highest.

Byline: Elaine Thompson

Three people in Worcester County are among 42 in the state affected by the salmonella outbreak related to peanut butter and peanut paste.

Middlesex County has the most cases in the state, with 12.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 486 people in 43 states have been infected by the salmonella typhimurium strain of bacteria in the outbreak that began in mid-September. Also, one Canadian has been infected. Six of the infected people have reportedly died. None have died in Massachusetts. The Bay State, however, has the third largest number of cases, behind Ohio and California, with 65 and 62 respectively.

John Jacob, spokesman for the state Department of Health, said there are about 1,200 cases of different strains of salmonella in the state each year. About 100 are salmonella typhimurium, the most common strain. Officials say more cases are likely to be reported because it can be as long as three weeks from when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

"We're at 42 cases and counting right now. We're definitely ahead of the curve," he said.

The cases are evenly distributed between males and females, and the victims' ages range from 1 to 91 years. He said most people who get infected are very young or very old. Technology to test for salmonella has greatly advanced in the last few years, Mr. Jacob said.

"There was a time we wouldn't be able to tell whether or not an illness was salmonella. But the testing has become a lot more advanced," he said. "Most adults are infected with salmonella at some point in life. But most folks come through without knowing they have it or having to go see a doctor. In cases where people are more advanced in age, or young, or have underlying medical conditions, they can be affected more seriously."

The symptoms are gastrointestinal, including vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and muscle weakness. The infection is diagnosed by a culture of a stool sample. The illness usually lasts four to seven days.

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration added more products to the quickly growing list of items that have been recalled since September.

All the products - including ice cream and dog biscuits, NutriSystem granola bars, and Keebler and Austin brand peanut butter crackers - were made with peanut paste or peanut butter made at the Blakely, Ga.-based Peanut Corp. of America plant. The plant has suspended production and recalled all related products made since July.

The state Department of Public health this week also notified local boards of health that an unopened 5-pound tub of the Blakely manufacturer's King Nut peanut butter at City Line Distributor in West Haven, Conn., also contained the matching strain of salmonella.

Federal health officials say the salmonella recall now involves about 31 million pounds of peanut butter and peanut paste.

The nonprofit National Peanut Board says Americans eat 700 million pounds of the food every year.

Even the Girl Scouts are reassuring customers that Peanut Corp. is not their supplier.

On the Web: FDA recall page listing recalled products is at http://tinyurl.com/8s3mwr

The quote: `We're at 42 cases and counting right now. We're definitely ahead of the curve.' - John Jacob, spokesman for the state Department of Health

ART: MAP

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STACEY ARSENAULT

CUTLINE: Salmonella outbreak
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 23, 2009
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