NORTH CAROLINA: Outbreak has sickened 40, hurt businesses
Posted: May 4th, 2012 - 4:02pm
ASHEVVILLE -- A bacterial outbreak that sickened dozens in Buncombe County and hurt local businesses is less severe than health regulators first thought.
Forty people have gotten sick from the rare paratyphi B type of salmonella, leading public health officials to recommend antibiotics for all cases and forcing some to stay home from work for 30 days.
But Thursday, lab results showed that the strain of paratyphi B was actually a less severe one.
There are two strains of paratyphi B, with one causing worse versions of typical salmonella symptoms — diarrhea that may be bloody, high fever, headache and abdominal pain. Salmonella rarely causes death but can be dangerous to infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
The disease here is unusual in that symptoms often do not arise until 30 days after exposure. Salmonella usually causes sickness in one to 10 days.
Thursday’s results mean up to 12 people who had been restricted from work might be able to return, county health officials said.
Health officials would not say who the workers were, citing federal health care privacy laws.
It also means that antibiotics won’t be automatically required.
Prior to the lab results, workers in high-risk fields of food service, health care or day care that got sick were not allowed to go back to work for 30 days. While they are still scrutinized more than others, this means they can go back to work earlier, health officials said.
Missing work can be tough for people in fields such as food service, said county health director Gibbie Harris.
“They don’t typically have benefits,” Harris said. “So we have gotten them in touch with the Department of Social Services for emergency food and other help,” she said.
Regulators are still looking into the origin of the salmonella outbreak, but are focusing on a local fermented bean product.
State agriculture regulators found salmonella in Smiling Hara Tempeh, but are still investigating to see if it is the same type causing the illness.
The company voluntarily asked vendors to stop using the tempeh April 26 when preliminary tests showed the possibility of salmonella. It was confirmed April 30.
Salmonella was not found in the shared kitchen, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, where the tempeh was made. But Blue Ridge, which is run by a state economic development agency to help small business, is hoping to boost public confidence by doing its own testing.
That put small businesses that rely on the commercial kitchen in a pinch. More than 20 businesses, from pretzel