June 3, 2008 / 11:04 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. probing Salmonella outbreak in 9 states

CHICAGO, June 3 (Reuters) - Health authorities are looking into an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning in U.S. nine states, with illnesses blamed in two of the states, Texas and New Mexico, on eating raw tomatoes, officials said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in those two states there have been 57 reported cases of illness caused by an uncommon type of Salmonella bacteria called SaintPaul since late April.

About 30 more people have been sickened in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Utah, and authorities said they are investigating to see if the outbreaks are linked.

At least 17 people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Casey Barton Behravesh said in a telephone interview. The ages of those sickened ranges from 3 to 82 years, she said.

"We’re watching for cases across the country," she said.

"Our preliminary data is showing that the people who became sick in New Mexico and Texas ate raw tomatoes, and that’s their likely source of this illness," Barton Behravesh added.

"The investigation in the other states is ongoing right now. We are definitely looking into their tomato exposures as well as other exposures to try to determine if they’re linked with this outbreak in New Mexico and Texas," she added.

Health officials in Texas and New Mexico conducted interviews comparing foods eaten by ill and well persons to identify raw tomatoes as the likely the source of infection.

"The specific type and source of tomatoes are under investigation. However, preliminary data suggest that raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes are the cause," the FDA said in a statement.

Tomato types not linked to these illnesses include cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home, the FDA said.

Salmonella bacteria are frequently responsible for food-borne illnesses and may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pains and bouts of fever 12 to 72 hours after eating an infected food. Illness can last 4 to 7 days.

Infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness, which can be deadly unless treated with antibiotics.

Until the source of the infection is confirmed, the CDC urged high risk individuals in New Mexico and Texas not to eat any of the suspected varieties of tomatoes. (Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen and Will Dunham; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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