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In 2018, a total of five Salmonella cases have been reported in eastern Nebraska resulting in four individuals being hospitalized.

Two men and three women ages 50-80 have contracted the illness, said Leah Bucco-White, public information officer at Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture, this multi-state outbreak was linked to contaminated chicken salads sold at Fareway grocery stores in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. There are 170 reported cases nationally spanning across seven states but no deaths have been reported, information from the CDC says. 

The bacteria is generally spread through poultry, eggs and milk.

“There are outbreaks of Salmonella every year,” said Dr. Joe Metcalf, emergency department physician at Columbus Community Hospital. “It is something that cannot be completely prevented any more than you can prevent influenza or viral respiratory infections.”

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that leads to an inflammation of the digestive system. Infected individuals develop symptoms like diarrhea, fever, nausea and abdominal cramps.

The disease “usually does not cause terrible harm” and lasts for three to 10 days. Most people with healthy immune systems are able to recover without serious treatment, Metcalf said.

With that being said, there are groups of people who are at a higher risk when exposed to the bacteria, such as children 5 years or younger, adults older than 65 and individuals with a weakened immune system; such as people with cancer or people taking immunosuppressive medications.

“These patients can have a more widespread illness from the bacteria,” Metcalf said.

Among the 50,000 reported cases in 2013, upward of 50 percent were children under the age of 15, he said.

Despite the number, Metcalf said that there are an estimated 1.4 million infections nationally every year that result in 15, 000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths.

“Deaths are not that common but they do occur in those that aren’t strong and healthy,” Dr. Metcalf said.

Prevention is tough because people can't detect the bacteria in food sources. It all comes down to the restaurants and food distributors abiding by the national food standards.

However, Metcalf stressed the importance of cleanliness.

“Clean hands are the best thing you can do to prevent contamination because most of these illnesses spread from hand to mouth,” he said.

Even with clean hands, individuals can still be infected if they consumed a contaminated food source.

“There’s not as much proactive prevention that an average person can do to keep from getting ill like you can with the flu, or a cold, or a virus that causes diarrhea,” he said.

There are no specific antibiotic treatments for the disease, instead, physicians provide supportive treatments to treat the discomforts caused by the symptoms. Only those that fall under the high-risk category receive antibiotic treatments to improve their immune systems to fight the infection.

“It turns out that treating the healthy does not help them and can only lead to creating resistance to Salmonella,” Dr. Metcalf said. “Salmonella is resistant to the antibiotics.”

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