Families have many activities planned this summer, including picnics, visits to county and state fairs, visits to the zoo, and just fun days in the park. We do not often think about protection from diseases such as salmonella infections when we get together with family members and friends at these outings, but there are a few facts you might want to consider as you plan your summer.
Diarrhea is the most common symptom of salmonellosis, but other symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting can also occur. Salmonella infections can be very serious and sometimes fatal for young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems.
Salmonella can be transmitted from eating a wide variety of foods, not just from eggs and undercooked poultry. For every one case of salmonella illness that is confirmed in the laboratory, there are about 30 times more cases that were not confirmed. This illness is more common in the summer because warmer weather gives bacteria more opportunity to contaminate food. To help keep family members safe from potential illness there are several measures you can take. Always keep cold foods cold and hot food hot. When finished eating, refrigerate leftovers promptly. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods. Do not prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
Although we have most often heard of salmonella in food borne outbreaks there have been cases associated with animals as well. Recently, an outbreak of salmonella altona was reported in 10 states, including Ohio (seven cases were identified throughout the state). This organism was found in baby chicks and ducklings and transmitted to humans by handling the infected animals. Again to avoid illness, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until soup and water is available. Clean equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house. Do not let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared or stored.
Turtles and reptiles have also been known to carry salmonella and cause illness. Because of the serious illness that can be found in young children, families with children aged 5 years or younger should avoid keeping turtles as pets. Once again, hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling turtles or turtles' cages. Also wash surfaces that the turtle or its cage has come in contact with. Separate the turtle from possible contact with food. Kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe turtles or to wash turtles' dishes, cages, or aquariums.
Parents should also keep in mind the potential for illness when visiting petting zoos and make sure children wash hands after visiting with the animals and before eating snacks or lunch.
For more information on Salmonella and its associated illnesses, please refer to the Center for Disease Control website at cdc.gov or call the Washington County Health Department at (740) 374-2782. Let's work together to have a safe and healthy summer.
Kathleen Meckstroth is executive director of the Washington County Health Department, 342 Muskingum Drive, Marietta.