CALDWELL PARISH, La. (KNOE) - Health officials said a mass illness in Caldwell Parish that caused hundreds of people to get sick is Salmonella poisoning. So far, they've confirmed 49 cases of a gastrointestinal illness and 31 of those people have been hospitalized, but officials expect that more people will get sick soon.
According to state health officials, the source is believed to be plates of jambalaya that were served at a community fundraiser on Monday. They believe anyone who ate the jambalaya is at risk of developing symptoms if they haven't already. They estimate at least 300 people were given jambalaya from the fundraiser.
Anyone who has or knows of a case of suspected Salmonella is asked to call (800) 256-2748. You are also asked to call this number if you are not sick but did come in contact with the jambalaya from the fundraiser.
Officials also advise anyone who still has jambalaya from that fundraiser to throw it away. That includes any food that may have come in contact with the jambalaya. They say Salmonella poisoning is a serious threat to a person's health and no risk should be taken with any food that may be contaminated. People who in are in close contact with others who have Salmonella poisoning are also in contact of being infected. (See below for more details.)
According to the sheriff and several residents we spoke with, everyone started getting sick around the same time Monday evening. This includes a man who later died. Health officials are still working to determine whether the death of that man is linked to the mass illness. The Sheriff of Caldwell Parish said that shortly before the man's death, he complained of symptoms similar to those experienced by the others now hospitalized.
Authorities offer the following information on Salmonella:
Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. Most people recover from Salmonella without treatment, but symptoms may be so severe that it is necessary to go to the hospital. Older adults, infants, and those who have impaired immune systems are at highest risk.
The CDC suggests contacting your doctor or healthcare provider if you have:
- Diarrhea and a fever over 101.5°F.
- Diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving.
- Bloody stools.
- Prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down.
- Signs of dehydration, such as:
- Making very little urine.
- Dry mouth and throat.
- Dizziness when standing up.
Reporting an Illness
Epidemiologists with the Louisiana Department of Health are contacting people known to have purchased food from the fundraiser, and are asking anyone else who might have eaten the jambalaya to call (800) 256-2748.
Salmonella bacteria are found in some foods such as raw chicken, turkey, beef, pork, other meat, eggs, and unpasteurized milk products.
Infected people and animals, especially reptiles (like iguanas and turtles), ducks, and chickens can also have Salmonella in their feces. Infected people may spread the bacteria to others through their feces for several weeks or more, even after they feel better.
You can get Salmonella infections if you:
- Eat raw or undercooked foods such as meat, poultry, or eggs
- Eat cooked food that came in contact with contaminated raw food
- Eat food or drinks contaminated by an infected person
- Are in close contact with a child or adult who has Salmonella
- Come in contact with infected animals or their feces.
How to Prevent Salmonella Infections
- Eat thoroughly cooked meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Using an accurate meat thermometer is the best way to ensure that food is thoroughly cooked.
- Eat only pasteurized milk and dairy products.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Eliminate cross-contamination from raw foods to cooked ones by thorough washing of cutting boards, utensils, and hands, and by discarding used meat and poultry packages.
- Wash hands after using the toilet, changing diapers, touching pets, before and after handling food, and before eating.
- Wash hands after touching animals/pets, animal feces, or items contaminated with animal feces such as bedding, dishes, or swimming/bathing water.
- Don't use food preparation areas to bathe pets or to wash their dishes, cages, or aquariums.