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Hands Under a Running Faucet --- Image by � Royalty-Free/Corbis

Salmonellosis more than just a tummy ache

For many people in this country, salmonellosis is more serious than just the flu.

This time of year, I get a little reminder that there are many people in this country for whom salmonellosis is more serious than just the flu.

You see, it is MS Walk time in northern Colorado, an event that will see 900 folks walk the three miles around Lake Windsor. They, and their non-walking teammates, will raise $125,000 that will help fund the research to find more meds that will help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients stop the progress of their disease and restore the function lost.

But these medications can have serious side effects, partly because they modify a person’s immune system to stop it from attacking the patient’s central nervous system.

That puts these people in the immunocompromised category, a group more prone to foodborne illnesses and other infectious diseases. They are also more likely to have more serious side effects from these illnesses, such as systemic infection and even death from salmonella.

Those people more prone to serious infections include the young, whose immune systems are not yet completely developed, and the elderly, whose immune systems no longer operate as efficiently as they used to.

Patients on chemotherapy for malignancies and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can fall victim to simple salmonella.

Transplant patients take medications to keep their bodies from rejecting the donor organ, but they also slow down the body’s response to other foreign agents, like foodborne pathogens.

HIV patients also are usually on medications that slow down the ability to fight off opportunistic infections.

High-dose cortisone users, for illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lupus erythematosus, are also more susceptible.

And, of course, pregnant women make the list, especially for listeria.

There are more, but you get the picture. This is not a small group of people I am talking about here.

I write a blog for another electronic publication that generates lengthy discussions largely from people in, or who have been in, the meat and poultry business. They sometimes act offended if I suggest a foodborne illness may have originated at their place of business.

Some of them say salmonellosis is not any worse than a rotavirus infection, and they should have been more careful in their preparation of the offending food any way.

Others repeat that today’s young adult population is more vulnerable because we live in a sterile environment with all the vaccines preventing illnesses that us oldsters had as kids, and all the food inspection being done to keep our food safe so our immune systems can’t develop resistance to salmonella and campylobacter.

I have two problems with statements like those:

  1. Some of the kids in our schools fall into that “vulnerable” population for reasons beyond their control. They should not have to be in a classroom of kids whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps and rubella -- viruses that can still kill people with weakened immune systems.
  2. In 1900, one out of five caskets in the U.S. were filled with bodies of children who had not reached five years of age. In 2000, that number was 1 out of 100. In 1900, what was the leading killer of children? Infectious diseases that we have battled against and won. Do the re-bloggers really want to go back to that day and age when exposure to live germs was the only way to develop immunity?

Producing safe food products is a no-brainer to me, and I will defend our public servants who are in charge of meat, poultry and egg product inspection as long as I draw air ... maybe even the catfish inspectors if they stay at the Food Safety & Inspection Service.

I am getting up into that “elderly” category and obviously more vulnerable than I used to be, but there is a more important reason I still blog about and push for food safety and why I participate in the MS Walk.

Her name is Brooke, captain of Brooke’s Believers. She is my adult daughter who lives with MS. Diagnosed in 2009 on her 35th birthday, her team, in the eight years we have been walking, has raised nearly $200,000 and has seen seven new MS disease-altering medications gain Food & Drug Administration approval.

The second medication Brooke was on caused her white blood cell count -- those germ fighting cells -- to drop to nearly zero. I am forever grateful she did not contract salmonellosis during that scary time period.

She looks and acts perfectly healthy and normal, as do many of our vulnerable citizens. There are far more of them than most are aware of. They are the reasons we must be ever vigilant in our food safety efforts.

Salmonellosis is more than just a tummy ache; it is the number-one killer of all foodborne pathogens. If you don’t believe me, Google it.

Then, go buy a food thermometer, wash your hands and prepare your food with extra care.

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