State health officials investigate Salmonella illnesses in Bethel area

The Alaska Division of Public Health is investigating salmonella infections in the Bethel area. A team is in Bethel to track down the source of the infection.

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Medical illustration of non-typhoidal salmonella. (Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control)
Medical illustration of non-typhoidal salmonella. (Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control)

Louisa Castrodale is an epidemiologist with the state’s Public Health division.

“It’s not even the end of July and we had gotten about six cases of confirmed salmonella from the Bethel-YK area,” Castrodale said. “That’s a large number of cases for a short amount of time in a smaller location, so we were really concerned there was a common source for these infections.”

Salmonella symptoms include diarrhea, stomach-ache, vomiting, fever, headache, and dehydration, especially in infants. Symptoms can start showing between six to 72 hours after exposure to salmonella bacteria, and the illness can last four to seven days.

Castrodale said a team of three people from the state health department arrived in Bethel Wednesday and will stay until Friday to try and find a possible source for the illnesses.

“Could have either a contaminated food product, so a food product that had salmonella in it, or you could have contact with a person that had salmonella,” Castrodale said.

Salmonella can also be contracted through touching pets or animals, by not washing one’s hands, by drinking water or milk with the bacteria in it, or by eating foods that don’t have to be cooked, but that came into contact with the bacteria. Salmonella bacteria do not usually affect the taste or smell of foods.

Over 50 salmonella cases are confirmed in Alaska each year; the illness is diagnosed by getting a stool sample to identify the bacteria.

Charles Enoch is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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