- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

UPDATED:

Fifteen more cases of salmonella poisoning in a nationwide outbreak have been reported, bringing the total to 425 in 43 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. Three elderly people may have died of the disease, two of them in Virginia, it said.

Another 17 people in Virginia and seven in Maryland were infected.

“This is a complex widespread outbreak that appears to be ongoing,” the CDC said in statement. “We are continuing to receive reports of illness and identify cases that may be associated with the outbreak.”

The CDC in Atlanta identified 410 people in 43 states Monday who have been infected with the same strain of salmonella that has been traced to peanut butter. But an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration has not identified a specific brand.

Another 15 people were added Tuesday, bringing the total to 425. Their locations were not identified immediately.

The infections “may have contributed to the deaths” of three elderly people, two in Virginia and one in Minnesota, the CDC said.

The elderly and people with weak immune systems are “especially susceptible to severe and life-threatening illness from salmonella,” it said.

The FDA, in collaboration with the CDC and state public health officials nationwide, launched its investigation of a peanut butter manufacturer based on data and lab tests conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Agriculture over the weekend.

The peanut butter was distributed to institutions such as nursing homes and schools in Minnesota and six other states by King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio, which has issued a recall to food service companies, the company said in a statement.

It was manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America of Lynchburg, Va., which said in a statement that “the salmonella was found in an open container of King Nut peanut butter at a nursing facility, which leaves open the possibility of cross contamination from another source.”

“This history of the handling of that open container is unknown at this time,” it said.

“Preliminary analysis suggests peanut butter as the likely source of this outbreak,” the CDC said Tuesday.

“Clusters of infections in several states have been reported in schools and other institutions such as long-term care facilities and hospitals, and King Nut is the only brand of peanut butter used in those facilities for which we have information.”

Common brands of peanut butter sold in grocery stores “do not appear to be associated with the outbreak, according to preliminary analysis to date among ill persons who have been interviewed,” it said.

Both King Nut and PCA said they were cooperating with the FDA and the CDC.

King Nut has said that it distributes the product in seven states and therefore “King Nut peanut butter could not possibly be the source of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella.”

It is not distributed in Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C.

At least 30 people who were infected between early November and Dec. 29 are in Minnesota, where its health department conducted an epidemiological investigation and suggested that the “likely source” was King Nut creamy peanut butter.

“We may have a few new cases,” Doug Shultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, said by phone. “There are still a few cases pending in our lab [for examination]. We need to determine if theyre part of this case or another one.”

Mississippi was the 43rd state to report a case Monday of the same strain of salmonella bacterium, the CDC said.

Doctors are required to report salmonella poisoning to the CDC, which then informs state health authorities.

Phil Giaramita, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health, confirmed the CDC report that 17 people in Virginia have been identified as being infected with the same strain of salmonella Salmonella Typhimurium. He said the King Nut peanut butter brand has not been confirmed as the source.

“It may actually turn out not to be the culprit,” he said in a telephone interview.

John Hammond, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, confirmed that seven people in Maryland have been infected with the salmonella strain and said “there has been no word on an increase” in the number of cases there.

“I can’t speculate why someone would get ill in Maryland,” he said by telephone. “The investigation continues into the cause of this.”

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