July 7, 2008

More Cases of Salmonella Epidemic Reported in U.S.

More cases of salmonella epidemic reported in U.S.

LOS ANGELES, July 5 (Xinhua) -- A salmonella epidemic continues to spread across the United States, raising the number of infected cases to more than 900, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Saturday.

Among the 943 reported cases nationwide, at least 130 people have been hospitalized since mid-April when the first salmonella cases appeared, according to the FDA.

Tainted tomatoes remain the leading suspect in the salmonella outbreak, although investigators are testing other types of fresh produce, the FDA said.

Investigators have begun looking at jalapeno peppers as a possible cause of the outbreak as well as other ingredients used to make salsa such as cilantro and serrano peppers, FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said.

Among all the possibilities, investigators have been exploring whether tomatoes and other produce are sharing a common packing or shipping site where both might become contaminated or whether multiple foods might be tainted while being grown on adjoining farms or with common water sources.

Last week, the government said it would test numerous other kinds of fresh produce commonly served with fresh tomatoes while insisting that tomatoes remained the possible leading culprit.

Investigators from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have interviewed people taken ill in June in an effort to find out what they ate and compare their diets with those of healthy relatives and neighbors.

Officials have not revealed their early findings so far, only saying that they supported the investigation's new move.

CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said Saturday that the agency's scientists were working around the clock to try to pinpoint the source of the outbreak but were not ready to single out anything.

Salsa ingredients including peppers were among the items being tested, Nowak said. "We don't rank the items we're looking at."

Some patients have reportedly complained that they ate raw tomatoes in fresh salsa and guacamole.

Consumers and farmers have criticized health officials for the slow pace of the probe, which the FDA says is unavoidable because of the wide scope of the outbreak, the shaky memories of victims and the difficulties of tracing tomatoes.

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