"When you look at the distribution of cases, it does suggest that it could be a mass-distributed food," he said. "This outbreak is on the larger side, but there have been larger outbreaks."
Reports of people sickened have occurred between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, 2008, with most illnesses starting after Oct. 1. About 18 percent of those who fell ill were hospitalized. Mody said he couldn't estimate when the outbreak might end, or how many people might eventually become infected with the germ.
Salmonella is typically transmitted through foods that are contaminated with animal feces, Mody said. As part of the investigation, federal health officials are interviewing infected people to see if there were common elements in their diet, he said.
Mody said most reported cases of salmonella occur in children. In the current outbreak, victims have ranged in age from less than 1 year to 103, he said.
An estimated 40,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported each year in the United States, but those are only the reported cases, Mody said. "Those are only the cases that are severe enough to have a person go to a doctor. It's been estimated that the actual number of total salmonella cases could be 30 times or more as great," he said.
Mody said there probably have been many unreported cases in the current outbreak. "If someone has mild symptoms, they might not seek health care," he said.
Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after contact with the germ. Infections typically clear up in five to seven days, Mody said. "They often don't require any treatment other than making sure you take enough fluids," he said.
But, severe infections can occur, particularly in infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. In severe cases, the salmonella infection c
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