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Northern Va. Sees Spike in Food-Borne Illnesses

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005 – 12:34 PM
Hank Silverberg, WTOP Radio
FAIRFAX, Va. — Watch what you eat. Virginia health officials say this summer more people in Northern Virginia are getting sick from food-borne illnesses.
“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen or suspected 50 additional cases of food-borne illness, primarily caused by the Salmonella bacteria,” says Virginia Department of Health spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.
Those 50 cases in Northern Virginia are in addition to another 150 cases previously reported.
“We are seeing an increase, and it is of concern,” Caldwell says.


Whether you’re at a barbeque, picnic, wedding or just a restaurant, Caldwell suggests you “pay close attention to how you feel afterwards.”
According to the health department, the most common symptoms of gastrointestinal illness caused from bacteria include mild or severe diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. The more rare symptoms include blood infections.
The symptoms show up one hour to three days after you’ve eaten.
“Some of the illnesses we’ve been seeing have been serious enough to cause hospitalization,” Caldwell says. “Some of these people are not just the very young or the very elderly. They’re middle-aged people, too.”
So far, nobody in Northern Virginia has died.
You’re urged to pay attention to how your food is prepared, stored and handled.
Here are the health department’s recommendations:
* Wash raw fruits and vegetables prior to eating or chopping.
* Wash your hands carefully before and after preparing food, after using the toilet and after changing diapers.
* Always treat raw poultry, beef and pork as though they are contaminated and handle accordingly.
* Wrap fresh meats in plastic bags at the market to prevent blood from dripping on other foods.
* Refrigerate foods promptly and minimize holding at room temperature.
* Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and counters immediately after they’re used to prevent cross-contamination with other foods.
* Avoid eating raw or undercooked poultry and meats.
* Make sure you use the correct internal cooking temperature when cooking, particularly when you are using a microwave.
* Avoid eating raw eggs. Thoroughly cook all foods made with raw eggs.
* Avoid using raw (unpasteurized) milk.
* Avoid chicks, ducklings, turtles and other reptiles as pets for small children since those animals can carry certain bacteria.
If you get sick from food eaten at a restaurant or catered function, you’re urged to see your doctor or report it to your local health department. Illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Salmonella and Shigella are reportable in Virginia.
The health department is asking doctors to report food-borne illnesses so the state can determine whether cases are linked.