Food poisoning outbreak kills 1; another 143 ill
2nd death may be linked to church dinner
November 5, 1997
Web posted at: 6:36 p.m. EST (2336 GMT)
CHAPTICO, Maryland (CNN) -- One person died and at least 143 others became ill after an outbreak of food poisoning traced to a church dinner in Maryland.
Health authorities are investigating whether a second death is linked to the salmonella contamination. They are also looking at whether turkey or ham served at the dinner was the cause of the outbreak.
An estimated 1,400 people attended the dinner Sunday at Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Chaptico, a town on the Wicomico River about 45 miles southeast of Washington, D.C.
At least four bus loads of attendees came to the dinner, from Baltimore, Silver Spring and from other states. Officials say people from the Carolinas to California have reported being sick.
Dr. Ebenezer Israel, the health officer in St. Mary's County, said the elderly woman who died did not attend the dinner but ate a meal that was prepared at the affair and delivered to her home.
Another woman, from Baltimore, died following the dinner, and officials are now investigating her death to see if it is related to the outbreak.
Israel said dozens of people have gone to emergency rooms complaining of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. The victims range in age from 2 to 81 years old.
A spokeswoman at St. Mary's County Hospital told CNN that 13 people were admitted to the hospital for treatment of suspected food poisoning, and another 33 have been treated and released.
Physicians Hospital in La Plata, Maryland, reported 26 people had been treated for suspected food poisoning, with four admitted.
Salmonella infection can occur when people eat food containing salmonella bacteria. Any raw food from animals -- including meat, poultry, raw milk, fish and shellfish -- can carry salmonella. When these foods are not cooked thoroughly, the bacteria can survive and people who eat it can become sick.
Food that comes in contact with the bacteria can also spread infection.
Officials said they are looking at the turkey or ham served at the dinner as the possible sources. Fried oysters served at the affair have been ruled out as the cause.
Israel said different types of food served at the dinner came from different locations.
"We are not at a stage where we can say comfortably where the organism came from," Israel said.
Each year, about 40,000 cases of salmonella cases are reported in the United States, but health experts estimate that between 400,000 and 4 million persons each year actually contract the infection.
Symptoms of salmonella usually start six to 48 hours after the food is consumed. The most common symptoms are diarrhea followed by upset stomach, chills, fever or headache. Symptoms generally last three to five days.
Salmonella infection can be life-threatening for infants and children, the elderly and people who are weakened from other serious illnesses.