Shutdown Salmonella Outbreak May Be Drug Resistant, Sickens Hundreds

The salmonella outbreak that has coincided with the government shutdown has sickened hundreds of people across more than a dozen states, and public health officials from an apparent skeleton crew have even scarier news about the foodborne illness scare.

Much of the reporting about the salmonella outbreak this week is worrisome, beginning with speculation that reduced federal oversight in the wake of the government shutdown is in part why the pathogen was able to spread so far, so quickly.

As the outbreak is still in its earliest stages, little can be said with certainty about the origins and severity of the issue — even less so considering much federal regulation is hobbled due to the government shutdown, and many are speculating that the two are linked.

Eric Walker, a spokesman for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, told media that the “shutdown has really handcuffed these regulatory agencies and their proper regulatory role,” adding that the salmonella outbreak “is the nightmare scenario, not just with the government shutdown but… what happens when you overuse antibiotics in livestock.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest is a consumer advocacy group, and they report that of those sickened in the salmonella outbreak, 42 percent are not responding as expected to antibiotic treatment. CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal added:

“The number of people we know to be ill is just the tip of the iceberg… This outbreak shows that is a terrible time for government public health officials to be locked out of their offices and labs, and for government Web sites to go dark.”

However, Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler, who specializes in such outbreaks, believes that the current wave of salmonella cases is not even a new strain — he says:

“My strong suspicion is this is not a new outbreak, but the same outbreak from May 2013, that is being updated by FSIS.”

The salmonella outbreak has been found in 18 states, but such instances of foodborne illness are often underestimated due to the number of people who are sickened under the radar or not included in official counts in the course of the initial reporting.