Over the past three years, British Columbia has seen a steady increase in cases of a particular strain of salmonella, with the vast majority of these being reported in the Lower Mainland.
Since 2008, over 500 cases have been reported, and it is estimated that for every one case reported, between 13 and 37 others actually occur in the population. While 14 per cent of infected individuals have required hospitalization, no deaths have been associated with this outbreak.
"Eggs are the most likely source of this outbreak," explains Dr. Eleni Galanis, physician epidemiologist with the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. "As sick individuals have eaten eggs from many sources, it's not clear what type may be causing the outbreak. However, the investigation did uncover the use of ungraded and broiler hatching eggs in restaurants and other food service establishments in the Lower Mainland. Eggs used at these places were of poor quality, cracked and dirty."
Salmonella can be found on the egg shell and in the egg white and yolk. People can get infected by ingesting raw or undercooked eggs or by handling contaminated eggs (shell or interior) and not washing their hands.
Although eggs remain a healthy source of protein, care must be taken to avoid infection from eggs. To prevent Salmonella infection, the BCCDC reminds British Columbians to:
- Eat well-cooked eggs (with solid yolk and egg white) and avoid raw and runny eggs.
- Keep eggs refrigerated.
- Wash hands after handling eggs.
- Use only pasteurized eggs in foods calling for uncooked eggs (these are available in grocery store dairy sections).
Restaurant owners can decrease the risk of infecting their patrons by purchasing grade-A eggs from reputable sources and using pasteurized eggs in foods where eggs are served raw or undercooked. Farmers can decrease the risk of salmonella reaching consumers by selling their eggs only through regulated facilities and maintaining high levels of biosecurity on their farm.
Symptoms of salmonella infection may include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and headaches. These symptoms commonly occur 12 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food or water, and can last a few days to a week. Most people recover without treatment. If symptoms persist for longer than a few days or are unusually severe, sick people should see their doctor. People at highest risk include young children, elderly people and those with weak immune systems.
If you have symptoms compatible with salmonella infection, call the 24-hour HealthLink BC line at 811, contact your family physician, view the BC HealthFiles on salmonella and Food Safety at www.bchealthguide.org/healthfiles
, or visit www.bccdc.ca