Salmonella outbreak strikes Elim

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State health officials were searching for the source of a salmonella outbreak that afflicted 21 people in the village of Elim.

''This is one of the largest salmonella outbreaks that the state has seen in a long time,'' said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, with the state Section of Epidemiology.

McLaughlin led the investigation with the help of a public health nurse in Nome, who first reported the outbreak two weeks ago.

McLaughlin declined to name the village, but Dr. David Head, chief of staff with Norton Sound Health Corp., confirmed it was Elim.

Health officials collected stool samples from almost 50 residents; Elim has a population of 318. So far, 21 samples have come back positive for the bacteria, several more are still unconfirmed and the rest were negative, McLaughlin said.

All of the residents tested showed one or more symptoms of salmonella gastroenteritis, including fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. One person was hospitalized for three days and then released, but no one died, McLaughlin said.

Salmonella bacteria can be found in water sources and animals, including humans, poultry, even iguanas and other pets. It is spread through contact with water or food contaminated with feces, through person-to-person contact with feces, or from eating poorly cooked, contaminated foods, McLaughlin said.

The investigator said he searched for a source by testing seal oil, baking oil, cookies, dried salmon and eggs. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also tested village water supplies, but results came back negative. The state's investigation continues, McLaughlin said.

Because more villagers could contract the bacteria through person-to-person contact, he suggested residents frequently wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom.

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