By Jean Cole
During the weekend salmonellosis outbreak in Limestone County, five people were hospitalized, 45 people were treated and eight cases were confirmed, Athens-Limestone Hospital reported Tuesday.
Hospital officials confirmed they had treated a total of 45 people for what they believe is salmonella bacterial infection.
Between Saturday and Tuesday, dozens of people in Limestone County and elsewhere were stricken with diarrhea, vomiting and, sometimes, cramps and fever. Officials believe victims contracted the salmonella bacteria from food served at the annual bean dinner fundraiser for the Foundation on Aging in Athens. However, the state health department is in the process of trying to confirm both the cause and the source of the illnesses.
Danny Yocom, lab director at the hospital, said the lab has confirmed eight cases (through sample testing) and it has sent the pathogens to the state health department for analysis.
Also, an untouched takeout order from the bean day dinner was sent to the state for analysis, said Micheal Estremera, infection preventionist for the hospital.
“It was a plate that someone here got Friday and put in the refrigerator but did not eat, ” she said. “Several people (from the hospital) had eaten there and did not get sick and some did get sick.”
The five who had to be hospitalized were treated mainly for dehydration due to diarrhea, Estremera said.
She believed the 45 who were treated for symptoms had eaten at bean day. She said the figure does not include those treated at Medical East, Decatur or Madison facilities.
The hospital did not obtain stool specimens from all 45 of the people who were treated for symptoms because once salmonella bacteria was confirmed as the cause of illness in several people, hospital employees simply treated the symptoms.
Estremera said there is no real cure for salmonellosis. Most of the victims would simply have to let the illness take its course over five to seven days, though anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea medicines can help, she said. Many of those who were stricken over the weekend had returned to work Tuesday but were still reporting queasiness and other symptoms. Some were still home in bed.
“It hits people differently,” she said, noting the experience of some hospital workers. “Some ate at the same time and one was back to work on Monday.”
Those victims whose immune systems are already compromised or who have other health problems should just make sure they keep hydrated, she said.
“If they can’t keep fluids down, they may need to get intravenous fluids,” Estremera said. “It is unfortunate that this happened and we are trying to get to the bottom of it and figure it out.”
She said it was not unusual for people to come to a hospital with diarrhea and other symptoms like those experienced by people who fell ill this weekend.
“We see the same signs and symptoms and with diarrhea every day but we don’t get this many and it is usually not salmonella,” Estremera said.
The Alabama Department of Health’s Epidemiology Division is investigating the outbreak, though an official could not comment on the status of the probe Tuesday.
“Our investigation is ongoing, so we cannot comment on anything until we conclude it,” said Mike Tyler, emergency preparedness coordinator for Area II, which includes Limestone, Morgan, Madison, Lawrence, Cullman, Marshall and Jackson counties. He could not estimate how long the investigation would take.
“It varies depending on how many people we have to interview,” Tyler said.