Irony can be ironic: 70 staff members ill after NM Department of Health luncheon

Andrew Oxford of The New Mexican reports that epidemiologists at the state Department of Health are investigating their agency’s own annual holiday luncheon after dozens of employees reported falling ill after the party last week.

barfAbout 70 staff members claim to have experienced gastrointestinal issues following the catered event at the Harold Runnels Building attended by more than 200 employees, according to a spokesman.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher wrote in an email to staff Monday that investigators have not identified a specific food from the party that may have caused the outbreak.

A team from the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division “believes that there may have been cross-contamination of menu items served during the luncheon,” she wrote.

Epidemiologists were still waiting for laboratory test results as of Monday, but Gallagher told staff the outbreak appears to have been caused by Bacillus cereus or Clostridium perfringens, toxins that can cause foodborne illness.

“We will work to take appropriate steps to address food handling procedures with the caterer and prevent such problems in the future,” wrote, Gallagher.

Spokesman Paul Rhien said the event was catered by a local business, but he did not specify which one when asked by a reporter to identify the company.

Tragic Thanksgiving outbreak linked to Clostridium perfringens 

It’s deja vu all over again. In November 2015 over 40 fell ill with Clostridium perfringens in my home state of North Carolina following a Thanksgiving community meal.

The caterer failed to keep the hot foods hot according to the investigation report in MMWR:

Turkeys were cooked approximately 10 hours before lunch, placed in warming pans, and plated in individual servings. Food was then delivered by automobile, which required multiple trips. After cooking and during transport, food sat either in warming pans or at ambient temperature for up to 8 hours. No temperature monitoring was conducted after cooking.

Today, according to the LA Times, perfringens has been linked to another Thanksgiving outbreak. This one was fatal.thanksgiving-dinner-1_0

Health officials say common foodborne bacteria caused an illness that left three people dead and sickened 22 others who attended a Thanksgiving dinner at an events hall in Antioch, Calif.

Officials identified the three people who died as 43-year-old Christopher Cappetti, 59-year-old Chooi Keng Cheah, and 69-year-old Jane Evans. All were residents of assisted living facilities in Antioch.

From a Contra Costa County press release:

A laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the bacteria in stool samples taken from people sickened by food served at the Nov. 24 holiday celebration, held by a community church at Antioch’s American Legion auditorium.

“Our investigation was not able to determine exactly what people ate that made them sick. But after extensive interviews we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time. Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes,” said Dr. Marilyn Underwood, CCHS Environmental Health director.

 

We’re all hosts on a viral planet virome edition

The X-files movie was on the other night – the 1998 one – featuring bad dialogue, overwrought music, mysterious scientists and a mutated virus originally delivered by extraterrestrials.

bacteriophageAt the same time I was reading how scientists at the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA) in Spain have carried out a comprehensive analysis of several viromes from different habitats to explore whether bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) harbor antibiotic resistance genes.

The team demonstrated that while human-associated viromes do not or rarely carry resistance genes, viromes from non-human sources (e.g., pig feces, raw sewage, and freshwater and marine environments) contain a large reservoir of resistance genes. Their work is described in the journal Environmental Pollution (1).

“These findings suggest that phages may play a more significant role in the acquisition and mobilization of antibiotic resistance genes than previously expected”, says Dr. Jose L. Balcazar, a Ramon y Cajal research scientist and senior author of the study.

Of course they do: We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

In this study, several viromes (community of viruses) from humans, animals, and different environments worldwide were screened for sequences similar to those associated with antibiotic resistance genes. The results showed that genes encoding major facilitator superfamily transporters and beta-lactamases were found in all analysed viromes regardless their origin. The presence of these resistance genes in bacteriophages is of particular concern, because these genes may eventually be transferred to bacteria, making them resistant to antibiotics. Considering that bacteriophages have the potential to transfer genetic material between bacteria, they play an important role in the evolution and ecology of bacterial species. However, the contribution of bacteriophages to the acquisition and spread of antibiotic resistance has been partially explored in environmental settings. So these findings suggest that the role of bacteriophages should be taken into account in the development of strategies for tackling antibiotic resistance. This work was funded by the first joint call of the Water Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

Published articles

Lekunberri I., Subirats J., Borrego C.M., Balcazar J.L. (2016) “Exploring the contribution of bacteriophages to antibiotic resistance”. Environmental Pollution. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.11.059

 “Wastewater treatment plant discharges can promote the development of antibiotic resistance in streams” [PDF]. Science for Environment Policy of the European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service.

250 sick in Sweden: Global College evacuated after gastroenteritis

At least 250 of 680 students at Global College in Sweden were sick when it was decided to close the school Wednesday.

globala-gymnasiet“We think it’s about common stomach bug. There is no connection to the school food,” said Acting Vice Chancellor Emma Frankl.

It is unclear how long it will keep the school closed. A crisis team has been set up.

“We obviously need advice from those who can assess the situation. The only thing we are certain at present is that it does not have with school meals to make, which would surely just all have suffered, says Emma Frankl.

Not quite.

But I look forward to the investigators’ response.

260 sick after Thanksgiving meal in New York

The health department says it has now received 260 reports of illness related to Golden Ponds restaurant.

golden-pondsThe Monroe County Health Department says the updated number comes after speaking with 80 people who made reports. Spokesman John Ricci says those people mentioned family members and friends who also got sick after eating at the restaurant.

The restaurant was closed down last month after people started reporting getting sick after eating there on Thanksgiving. News10NBC found Golden Ponds had 106 violations since 2009.

golden-pond

Chlorine works, focus on public health: NZ campy-in-water inquiry wraps up with 16 draft recommendations

I served on one of those water inquires, back in Canada after the 2000 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that killed seven and sickened 2,300 residents in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, a town of about 5,000.

Walkerton Water Tower

Walkerton Water Tower

It was decent work, but what surprised me most was the actions taken by various social actors in the aftermath of the outbreak: protect themselves, public health be damned.

The number of higher-ups who wanted to meet with me to express why they did what they did, in a private chat, had absolutely no influence on my conclusions, and was sorta repulsive.

Maybe I was naïve.

Still am (I’m the full professor from Kansas State University who got fired for bad attendance with  — nothing, except my family, and that makes a good Hollywood tale).

In August, 2016, about 5,530 or 39 per cent of Havelock North, New Zealand’s population reported gastroenteritis from Camplylobacter in the water supply, 1,072 of those confirmed cases.

Nicki Harper of the New Zealand Herald reports a government inquiry into contamination of a Hawke’s Bay water supply has made 16 draft recommendations.

The inquiry into the Hastings District Council’s request to re-activate a Brookvale Road bore to augment Havelock North’s peak summer water supply retired today with a set of draft recommendations.

Before wrapping up proceedings, inquiry panel chair Lyn Stevens QC thanked the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) and Hastings District Council (HDC) for the efforts they made that resulted in the regional council dropping its prosecution of the Hastings council.

This agreement came after the first day of hearings on Monday, when pressure was applied by the panel to re-consider the charges.

After extensive questioning on Monday, the regional council agreed to withdraw the charges relating to breaches of the Hastings District Council’s resource consent conditions for taking water from Brookvale bores 1 and 2 – opting to instead consider issuing infringement notices.

Mr Stevens said, “The panel has noted a level of defensiveness in some of the evidence filed to date.

“I’m not being critical of any organisation or witness but wish to emphasise the overriding interest with this inquiry is the public interest, while we look to fulfil the terms of reference to determine the possible causes of contamination.”

A set of 16 draft recommendations were issued and Mr Stevens said the joint working group would be an important conduit to implement them.

The aim was to have the bore re-opened at the end of January before Havelock North water use reached peak demand in February.

Among the recommendations was a directive that the working group – comprising representation from HDC, HBRC, the DHB and drinking water assessors – meet regularly and share information of any potential drinking water safety risk.

For at least 12 months from December 12, the bore would receive cartridge filtration, UV and chlorine treatment, and a regime of regular montioring be implemented.

It was also recommended that the HDC draft an Emergency Response Plan before Bore 3 was brought on line.

Pinto defense: Consumer group says more than half of NZ chickens have campy

Meeting government standards is about the worst thing any group can say when it comes to trust.

chickenAlmost all food purchases are an act of faith-based food safety.

The Pinto, an American car that had a tendency to explode when hit from behind, also met all government standards.

More than half the supermarket chickens in a Consumer NZ study carried Campylobacter, but the poultry association says the test was much stricter than official requirements.

The study of 40 chickens found 65 per cent (26 chickens) tested positive for Campylobacter, Consumer NZ said.

Fourty chickens don’t mean statistical shit, especially if they were from the same grower.

But already, the industry and the government are defending NZ poultry, without a lot of data.

More posturing.

Like blowing up real good.

Poultry Industry Association director Michael Brooks said chicken only accounted for 40 per cent of New Zealand’s campylobacter cases.

Some might consider that a lot.

Radio New Zealand reported that Brooks said, “The important thing is to remember that cooking kills campylobacter, and that it’s important to have good hygiene practices when handling a raw product. Safe storage practices and cooking it thoroughly will prevent the risk of illness.”

It’s about lowering loads. All that Campy into a kitchen means cross-contamination is rife.

In a statement, MPI director of systems audit, assurance and monitoring Allan Kinsella said the ministry had considered a retail testing programme but decided it was unnecessary.

Mandatory testing for broiler chicken carcasses was introduced in 2006, she said, and had been so successful it had led to a more than 50 percent reduction in foodborne campylobacter cases between 2007 and 2015.

The posturing on either side is a scam.

When will someone step forward and credibly say, in NZ, we should have fewer people barfing?

Fermentations: A microbiological orgasm for food and drink

Third-year university in 1983, and things started to click.

I was bored, angst-ridden and wondering what am I doing here.

home-made preserves for the winter isolated on white background

home-made preserves for the winter isolated on white background

Then I took an industrial microbiology class.

Fermentations.

(And no, Michael Pollan didn’t invent bragging about fermentations either).

The next year I took a virology class and suddenly realized: we humans are hosts on a microbiological planet.

The way these bugs move genes around, invade others, and have been crucial to the evolution of humans has intrigued me ever since.

Kim Painter of USA Today writes that Americans used to find yogurt yucky. But the creamy dairy food long ago joined beer and cheese on the list of our favorite things produced by fermentation — an ancient preservation process in which bacteria transform food and drink, creating new flavors and, many consumers believe, enhanced health benefits.

So maybe it’s not surprising that thousands of people now show up at fermentation festivals around the country to make sauerkraut and sample kombucha teas, Korean kimchi and Japanese natto. The same folks flock to pop-up “kraut mobs” and study books such as Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, both by the movement’s guru, Sandor Katz.

“I would say that virtually every event I do these days is at capacity, and I’m not accepting every invitation. I can’t physically do it,” Katz says. He spoke from China, where he was on a quest for more fermentation wisdom.

Fermentation is the hottest trend in plant-based eating, according to recent survey of registered dietitians by The Monday Campaigns, a non-profit organization that promotes healthy lifestyles.

Jeremy Ogusky, a Boston pottery maker, sees it firsthand as founder of Boston Ferments, the host group for a summer festival that drew a few hundred people four years ago and 14,000 this year.  “It’s just grown every year,” he says. “It’s kind of crazy.”

And what about safety, especially for foods fermented at home?  After all, the process typically requires leaving jars of foodstuffs sitting out for weeks, without the final sanitizing steps used in standard canning. (Heat processing can be added for some foods, but purists generally frown on that.)

The history of fermentation, especially with vegetables, is mostly reassuring. When properly done, fermentation produces acids that kill most worrisome microorganisms, says my barfblog.com friend, who also shares a love of fermentations, Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University.

“We have lots of data showing that if you get the correct pH drop, the correct acidity level, you can create a really, really low risk product,” he says. But he says risks are not zero, and some cases of home fermenters making mistakes and creating unsafe foods have been reported. That’s why he urges people to use only long-tested recipes and techniques.


 

Plague in domestic cats — Idaho, 2016

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in May 2015, Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, was identified in dead Piute ground squirrels (Urocitellus mollis) reported through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s wildlife mortality monitoring program; in June 2015, the Idaho Division of Public Health (DPH) sent an advisory to veterinarians in four southwestern Idaho counties requesting that they notify their local public health officials of suspected plague in animals.* Y. pestis was not confirmed in any pets during 2015.

yersinia-pestisDuring May 30–July 26, 2016, local veterinarians notified public health officials that five dogs and 12 cats were being evaluated for possible plague. Local veterinarians also performed necropsies, when applicable, to establish the diagnosis. Idaho’s Central District Health Department and Eastern Idaho Public Health coordinated with DPH on submission of specimens to the DPH Bureau of Laboratories for Y. pestis testing and interviewed veterinary staff and pet owners. Specimens from blood, spleen, liver, and lymph nodes were screened using real–time polymerase chain reaction and confirmed by culture and phage lysis testing.

sorenne-cats-aug-15Among evaluated animals, Y. pestis was isolated from six of 12 cats; five of the six were from areas in southwestern Idaho where dead ground squirrels with confirmed Y. pestis had been reported in May 2016, and one was from from eastern Idaho. Among these six cats, specimen collection occurred during May 31–July 12, 2016; cats ranged in age from 10 months to 14.5 years (median = 4 years), four (67%) were male, five (83%) resided both indoors and outdoors, and one resided outdoor only. All six cats were domestic shorthair breed and had been neutered or spayed. Fever and lymphadenopathy (n = 4, 67%) were the most commonly reported signs of illness. None of the cats had known pulmonary involvement. Three of the six cats were treated with appropriate antibiotics (1); of these, two survived and one was euthanatized. The three other cats had died or had been euthanatized. All six cats reportedly had contact with ground squirrels and other wild rodents or rabbits before becoming ill; one had flea control administered before illness onset.

Cat owners, their household members, and veterinary staff were advised to be alert for fever and other plague symptoms (2) in themselves and other pets that might have had contact with the ill cats. Veterinary staff members were reminded about methods to prevent occupational exposure when managing pets suspected of having plague (1). In June 2016, an updated plague advisory was sent to veterinarians in four southwestern Idaho counties and eight eastern Idaho counties. Local public health districts used the Idaho Health Alert Network to enhance situational awareness among health care providers and issue guidance on management and reporting of plague cases. Public communication strategies to raise awareness about the risk for and prevention of Y. pestistransmission to persons and pets included an online map of plague-affected areas, warnings posted in affected public areas, and press releases advising residents about preventive measures. No human plague cases were reported.

Cat-associated human plague cases, including fatalities, have been reported in the western United States since 1977 (3). Compared with dogs, cats are highly susceptible to plague illness and can transmit disease to humans directly through exposure to respiratory droplets and infectious body fluids associated with bites or scratches (1). Cats could also carry infected fleas into households. Y. pestis–infected cats usually develop fever, anorexia, lethargy, and lymphadenitis (submandibular in approximately 75% of cases); approximately 10% of cases are pneumonic (4) and present the most risk to pet owners and veterinary staff members. During 1926–2012, six (43%) of all primary pneumonic cases of human plague that occurred in the United States had contact with domestic cats (5). No plague vaccine for pets is available.

Veterinarians should consider the diagnosis of plague in pets, including cats, with compatible signs and exposure to rodent habitats, rodents, or ill pets in areas where plague is endemic or epizootic. Suspicion of plague should trigger the following actions by veterinary staff: 1) implementation of personal protective measures, including wearing masks and gloves; 2) isolation of the ill pet; 3) assessment of pulmonary involvement; 4) initiation of diagnostic testing for Y. pestis; 5) prompt administration of antibiotic therapy; 6) implementation of flea control for affected animals and the hospital environment; 7) provision of advice on household flea control to pet owner; and 8) notification of public health officials (1). Pet owners can reduce the risk for plague in pets by controlling pet roaming, implementing a flea control program, and minimizing rodent habitats and food sources inside and outside the home. Additional information on prevention of plague is available at http://www.cdc.gov/plague/prevention/index.html.

63 sick: Wisconsin band students suffer ‘violent’ illness at Indy championship game

Dozens of University of Wisconsin-Madison band members suffered illnesses during Saturday’s Big Ten Championship football game in Indianapolis, a university spokeswoman said.

wisconsin-barf-bandUW-Madison media relations Director Meredith McGlone told News 3 that just before kickoff Saturday night, some members of the UW Marching Band began experiencing nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. As the game progressed, more members fell ill and were treated by onsite medical personnel. UW Band Director Mike Leckrone said most students started getting sick right before half time.

“Nobody had to run off the field, thankfully,” Leckrone said. “But there were a few that the moment they got off the field, they headed for the garbage can. They probably shouldn’t have gone on, they were feeling a little queasy. But it gets to be the call of the show time, and they wanted to perform.”