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Health officials investigate suspected outbreak of Campylobacter

County has 13 possible cases of bacterial illness
June 7, 2006
The Daily Press (Wisconsin)
Rick Olivo
Ashland County and state public health officials are investigating an outbreak of a diarrheal illness that is possibly related to an unpasteurized dairy product.
According to Ashland County Health Officer Terry Kramolis, one person has been confirmed with an infection by the Campylobacter bacteria, which can cause nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and occasional vomiting. On rare occasions, the illness has more severe complications such as temporary arthritis or paralysis, generally after the initial symptoms have disappeared.
“Currently, 13 people from Ashland County have probable Campylobacter infections,” Kramolis said. “And several people have been hospitalized.


Stool samples from several affected individuals are being confirmed for Campylobacter at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene in Madison. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Laboratory is also conducting tests on food products recently eaten by ill individuals.”
Kramolis declined to identify the suspect food items until investigations are complete, but said steps had been taken to ensure no other persons would be at risk from those products.
“We don’t want to release that information right away because it might bias the interviews we are doing,” she said.
Kramolis said when the investigations are completed, the source of the possible infections would be made public. She emphasized that the suspected source of the infections has been isolated and is no longer considered to be a further threat to the public.
Campylobacter infections are frequently associated with the consumption of unpasteurized milk or dairy products. The illness is not generally contagious person-to-person but could potentially be spread by persons working in food service or at a daycare facility who did not use good hand-washing practices.
“There is no risk to the public through a continued communicable disease state,” she said.
Health officials are urging anyone who is exhibiting symptoms consistent with Campylobacter and have recently consumed unpasteurized milk or dairy products to contact their health care provider for diagnosis and confirmation of the illness. She also said anyone who has recently consumed unpasteurized milk or dairy products and still has the products available for testing, either opened or unopened, should contact the local health department for directions.
“Because of the health risk of Campylobacter infections, consumption of unpasteurized milk and dairy products is discouraged,” Kramolis said.
Consuming raw or undercooked poultry, or exposure to farm animals, puppies or kittens with diarrheal illness may also cause the infection, she said.
The Ashland County Health Department, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services’ Division of Public Health and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are collaborating in the investigation, Kramolis said.
“What we are doing at the state level is DNA fingerprinting, trying to match all these people to see if it is the same source,” she said.
“If you recently consumed any unpasteurized dairy products and have the above symptoms, please see a physician and contact your local health department,” she said. “It is important that your physician collect a stool sample before treating with antibiotics in order to confirm the diagnosis.”
Kramolis said the investigation was still ongoing, and that none of the cases of suspected infection in Ashland County were life threatening.
Nevertheless, she said Campylobacter infections were a serious matter.
“It is very incapacitating if you get this,” she said. “If you get this, you are very sick. You definitely know you’ve got something.”
Kramolis said the disease was a special risk for the very young, the elderly or those with other health issues.
“Those people need to be careful,” she said.
She said the department was educating the people they were talking to about Campylobacter.
“We are also doing everything we can to make notification to all of our medical facilities and our clinics. Right now we are at an investigational level, trying to determine the exact source,” she said. “We feel we have a handle on it.”
Kramolis said while rare, Campylobacter infections were not unknown in Ashland County.
“Typically we will see some cases in the summer anyway. In my county I might see one or two cases annually. So for me this is a major event, she said. “I don’t know where our numbers are going to be when we are done. I wouldn’t be causing this alert if I didn’t have great concern.”
Kramolis said persons with additional questions, or who suspect they or someone they know may have been infected, should call her at the Ashland health Department at (715) 682-7028.