Screen shot 2011-03-25 at 5.19.59 AM.pngJamie Grey of KTVB Boise reported yesterday on what can be an “epidemiology learning moment.” According to Ms. Grey, around 5,000 cases of (about 60,000 fruit) Del Monte “cantaloupe sold at Costco stores in Idaho and other states in the west have been recalled because of possible Salmonella contamination.” According to the FDA, the cantaloupes were distributed through “warehouse clubs” in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Although, Ms. Grey reports that “newlyweds Taylor and Kyle Walker say they’ve got enough information to believe now-recalled cantaloupe served at their reception is what caused more than 40 of their wedding guests to get very sick,” the CDC reports the outbreak strain of Salmonella Panama being reported only from Oregon (5 cases), Washington (4 cases), California (2 cases), and Maryland (1 case).

So, are the Walker guests part of the Salmonella Cantaloupe Outbreak, or simply an unfortunate memory with illnesses caused by another bacteria or virus? What are the facts?

According to Ms. Grey, “on March 12th, the Walkers were married in Boise. Their reception included a cupcake tower and snacks, including cascading fruit displays containing cantaloupe.” And, the bride “says Costco called her caterer and warned that she bought a large quantity of possibly-affected cantaloupe.” However, according the bride, “of the 43 people [who] fell ill, most had eaten cantaloupe, though some hadn’t.”

So, certainly there is an opportunity for the guests to have been sickened by cantaloupe that were part of the recall, but not everyone seems to have eaten them. However, the bride also reported that “her caterer told her everything had been prepared in the same area though,” raising the risk of cross-contamination.

Also, according to Ms. Grey, the Bride reported that “the next day, they started hearing guests were falling ill… Like afternoon to evening of March 13th, we heard from a few people that they were super sick.” In fact, the bride reported, “we had a couple of people who had to go to the hospital. One girl went multiple times.”

Well, the onset of a Salmonella Illness can be 6 – 72 hours. However, many other bacteria and viruses have the same incubation (time from ingestion to onset of illness) period. In addition, symptoms of Salmonella illness can and do look like other bacterial or viral illnesses. Therefore, having positive stool cultures on some or all would be most helpful in determining what caused the 40 plus illnesses. Given the number of reported ill, it does seem a bit unlikely that none of them submitted a stool culture, but it certainly is possible.

So, where does this leave the Newlyweds? Frankly, I think the evidence is a bit weak to link the illnesses to Salmonella or Cantaloupe. Your thoughts?