An ongoing outbreak of “extensively drug-resistant” salmonella infections has spread across six provinces, affecting mainly children aged five and under, prompting a public health notice.
On Saturday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) issued a public health notice saying it, along with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada, launched an investigation into the salmonella outbreak, revealing raw pet food and cattle contact as likely culprits.
“Many of the individuals who became sick are children five years of age or younger. Illnesses associated with this outbreak strain may be difficult to treat with commonly recommended antibiotics, if antibiotic treatment is needed,” PHAC said in a statement.
The outbreak is still ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported to PHAC.
After investigating the outbreak, PHAC said two sources were identified.
The first source was linked to exposure to raw meat prepared for pets. PHAC said some of the individuals who became sick reported exposure to raw pet food before the illness occurred. But a single supplier of raw pet food has not been identified.
Contact with cattle, particularly calves, was linked as the second source of the outbreak.
“The outbreak is a reminder that salmonella bacteria can be found in raw pet food and in many species of animals, including dogs and cattle,” PHAC warned. “Always use safe food handling practices when preparing, cooking, or storing raw pet food to prevent illness. Practice good hand hygiene and frequent handwashing after contact with dogs fed raw pet food, cattle, and their environments.”
PHAC’s investigation also found this outbreak strain of salmonella has been found in sick dogs and cattle, and some of these animals have died. It warned that infected pets can also spread bacteria, like salmonella, to individuals they are in contact with, even if they do not show any signs of illness.
There have been 40 confirmed cases of the salmonella strain as of Nov. 11, PHAC said.
Illnesses have been reported in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Between July 2020 and September 2023, the reported individuals fell ill, resulting in 13 hospitalizations, with no reported deaths, PHAC said. The affected population spans from infants to 91-year-olds, with nearly half (43 per cent) of the cases involving children aged five or younger. Females comprise approximately half (53 per cent) of the reported cases.
The salmonella strain linked with the outbreak is “extensively drug-resistant,” PHAC said, meaning it’s resistant to all commonly recommended antibiotics.
“Illnesses resulting from this outbreak strain may be difficult to treat with commonly recommended antibiotics if antibiotic treatment is considered necessary,” it said.
Symptoms of salmonella typically start six to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria and can last four to seven days. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and abdominal cramps, according to PHAC.
“People who are infected with salmonella bacteria can spread salmonella to other people several days to several weeks after they have become infected, even if they don’t have symptoms,” PHAC said.
“Salmonella can spread by person-to-person contact and contaminated surfaces. Most people who become ill from a Salmonella infection will recover fully after a few days without treatment, but it can also cause severe illness and hospitalization.”
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