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Tainted Tomato Toll Now 552
Date:6/20/2008

U.S. health officials zero in on farms in Mexico, Florida as source of salmonella contamination

FRIDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- The victim count in the tainted tomato outbreak leaped to 552 Friday even as U.S health officials announced that the salmonella contaminant did indeed come from farms in Florida and Mexico.

The huge increase in victims since the nationwide outbreak began on April 10 appeared largely a result of the state of Texas now reporting 265 illnesses, according to the latest count by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 53 people have been hospitalized, Ian Williams, chief of the CDC's OutbreakNet Team, told reporters at a mid-afternoon teleconference.

"The FDA is sending teams to Florida and Mexico this weekend to begin inspection of these farms," Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for food protection at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, added. "We are also working with the state of Texas to identify the cluster of illness there."

The increase in people sickened by the singular strain of salmonella saintpaul was not unexpected. Last week, the count was below 200; two days ago, it jumped to more than 380. At least 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, have now reported cases.

On Thursday, health officials had warned that the end was not yet in sight.

"The marked increase is not due to new infections, but mainly because some states improved surveillance in response to this outbreak, and laboratory identification of many other previously submitted strains has now been completed," said Casey Barton Behravesh, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a Thursday teleconference.

"We are continuing to receive reports of ill people," added Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's division of foodborne, bacterial and mycotic diseases. "We do not think the outbreak is
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