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CDC has just released the “Final Update” covering its investigation into cases of human Salmonella Infantis illnesses caused by contaminated dry dog food.

As of today (July 18, 2012), CDC has confirmed 47 cases of Salmonella Infantis in 20 US states; two additional cases were reported in Canada, bringing the total number of known human cases to 49.

Most illnesses developed between January 4th and June 26th. Of the 24 victims for whom information was available, 10 (42%) were hospitalized. The youngest outbreak patient was less than a year old; the oldest was 82.

There is no way of knowing how many dogs and cats were infected, as no government agency in either the USA or Canada tracks reports of animal illnesses. eFoodAlert has learned of at least 54 animals who became ill after being fed a dry pet food manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods in their Gaston, SC production plant. Eight of the 54 animals died.

The 47 US illnesses were identified in Alabama (2), Arkansas (2), California (3), Connecticut (2), Georgia (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Michigan (2), Minnesota (1), Missouri (3), New Jersey (2), New York (5), North Carolina (5), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (1), Pennsylvania (3), South Carolina (2), Texas (1), and Virginia (2). The two Canadian victims were residents of Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Geographic distribution of US Salmonella Infantis cases traced to Diamond Pet Foods dry pet food products

The outbreak investigation developed an interesting twist – a second strain of Salmonella Infantis was found in a dog food sample collected from the home of an ill person in Canada. This genetically different strain of Salmonella Infantis was identical to the strain recovered from sixteen human cases of salmonellosis in the USA. Those 16 cases are included in the total of 47 confirmed US cases. Ironically, the Canadian patient was infected with a strain of Salmonella that was not associated with the pet food outbreak.

As I reported on May 15th, FDA inspected Diamond’s Gaston production plant and found a number of significant deficiencies in the company’s procedures and sanitation. The Salmonella Infantis outbreak strain was recovered from samples of finished product; however, none of the environmental or ingredient samples tested by FDA were contaminated with Salmonella. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how the finished pet food became contaminated.

This outbreak of Salmonella illnesses has implications beyond the borders of the USA and Canada. Some of the recalled pet food was shipped to other countries in Europe and Asia. Neither FDA nor Diamond has been willing to provide a list of countries to which the products were shipped, although some of this information is available from recipient countries or distributors.

Additional information on the international distribution of the recalled food is likely to seep out as FDA adds the pet food recalls to its Weekly Enforcement Reports. In today’s report, we learned that the Solid Gold products affected by this recall were supplied to Singapore (confirming information released by Singapore on May 29th), as well as to Canada and the USA.

CDC has evolved a very effective system for identifying possible human disease outbreaks, and cooperates closely with other federal, state and public health agencies in the investigation of these outbreaks. Unfortunately, there is no similar system in place to detect disease outbreaks in companion animals.

FDA “accepts” reports of pet illnesses that may be associated with pet foods, treats or medications; however, there is no mechanism in place for tracking and collating these reports. Nor is reporting of these illnesses mandatory. As a result, hundreds of dogs and cats may have become ill and dozens may have died unnecessarily before this outbreak affected enough people to become visible to CDC.

It’s bad enough when human illness is the “early warning system” for contaminated human food. Why should people also be used as the mineshaft canaries for contaminated pet foods?

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