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Deadly ‘super’ Salmonella outbreak linked to Mexican cheese, US beef

Published Aug 23rd, 2019 10:51PM EDT

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Coming down with a nasty Salmonella infection can easily sideline even the healthiest of people, but it’s when the bacteria show resistance to common treatments things start to look particularly scary.

A drug-resistant strain of Salmonella is at the center of a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, and its spread has been linked to both dairy and meat products from the United States as well as Mexico. A slow-growing outbreak of the bacteria has been traced to over 250 confirmed cases of illness and 60 hospitalizations, as well as two deaths.

As the CDC report explains, the strain was first identified in late 2018 as being multidrug-resistant, and the bacteria did not respond as expected to azithromycin, a commonly-prescribed antibiotic. This is particularly noteworthy because of all the variants of Salmonella studied by health experts in the United States, less than half a percent has shown resistance to the popular antibiotic.

While conducting its investigation, the CDC discovered individuals infected with this particular strain of bacteria from 32 U.S. states, and that nearly half of them reported recent travel to Mexico. Further investigation revealed that the bacteria originated in soft cheeses from Mexico as well as beef from the United States.

The CDC first stumbled upon this new strain of bacteria almost by accident. Health officials had been investigating a separate Salmonella outbreak in U.S. ground beef when they discovered a completely separate strain of the bacteria. Following that trail led them to find hundreds of patients who had been infected with this rare, drug-resistant variant.

Health experts have long feared the rise of so-called “superbugs” which are essentially drug-resistant versions of existing viruses and bacteria. Without go-to medicines to lean on, doctors could be left powerless to treat patients who come down with these infections, promoting their spread and potentially claiming many lives.

The CDC offers the following advice to keep yourself safe from bacteria, both “super” and not:

To prevent infection, consumers should avoid eating soft cheese that could be made with unpasteurized milk, and when preparing beef they should use a thermometer to ensure appropriate cooking temperatures are reached: 145°F (62.8°C) for steaks and roasts followed by a 3-minute rest time, and 160°F (71.1°C) for ground beef or hamburgers.