Having over one third of the victims in a Salmonella outbreak require hospitalization is a rarity.  A high hospitalization rate speaks to the dangerous nature of the particular strain of bacteria involved, sometimes, or to the population of people to whom the contaminated food items were sold. 

The Rhode Island Health Department’s release yesterday indicates that it may be the latter, in the Defusco’s Salmonella outbreak, that is responsible for so many hospitalizations.  Defusco’s zeppoles were sold to American Bakery Supplies, in West Warwick, who then distributed the contaminated zeppoles to Roch’s Market and Touch of Class Catering in West Warwick (among other locations), and Meal Works in Coventry.  Meal Works, which is a catering company, served the zeppoles at events on March and 18 at West Warwick Manor Senior Center, St John and Paul Church in Coventry, Sparrow Point (senior facility) in West Warwick, and Crescent Park Manor in Riverside.

Most people (not all) do recover from Salmonella infections, but the notion that Salmonella illnesses consist of just a few days of diarrhea are totally incorrect.  (See the story of Barb Pruitt, who lost 4 feet of her small intestine due to Salmonella infection)  And the risk is heightened for the elderly, particularly where preparation and storage conditions for the contaminated food item may have lead to large inoculating doses of bacterial ingestion (question: was Defusco’s pooling their eggs too???)

There are several relatively complex reasons why the elderly suffer more severe salmonella infections.  First, the aging of their gastrointestinal tracts reduces peristalsis, or the natural ability of the GI tract to propel contents through and out the system.  This delayed clearance of food, and the bacteria that they contain, means longer periods of contact between the bacteria and the lining of the GI tract.  This gives the bacteria more time to do their ugly job before being shed from the system.  Second, the elderly, as a group, have a higher incidence of co-morbidities (i.e. other illnesses or conditions), which presents a host of medical problems and threats in the context of a severe salmonella infection. 

No word yet on whether the 10 people hospitalized in the Defusco Salmonella outbreak have recovered or been discharged.