Status:
Active
Health advisory:
200626
Date Issued:
26 Jun 2020
Issued by:
Professor Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer, Victoria
Issued to:
Health professionals and consumers

Key messages

  • The department is investigating 9 cases of gastroenteritis caused by the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis. These cases became sick between late April to the end of May. 
  • Salmonella Enteritidis is not usually found in Australia and typically acquired overseas. However, the recent cases acquired their infections locally. 
  • Symptoms of the illness include diarrhoea, fever, headache, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. It can be a serious infection especially in the young, the elderly and those with medical conditions which weaken their immune system. Hospitalisation may be required in some cases.
  • Investigations so far have not identified any common source, but the majority of cases have had contact with, or consumed eggs from backyard chickens. 
  • Chickens can make great pets, but it is important to wash hands after handling them and after collecting their eggs. If you have back yard chickens, it is important to learn how to look after them properly and also how to protect yourself and your family from becoming sick. Purchase vaccinated back yard chickens from a reliable commercial source. See the Better Health Channel website for further information.
  • Salmonella can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of food containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise and uncooked cake batter. Eggs should be thoroughly cooked until they are hot all the way through, especially when serving to, infants, the elderly and anyone with a medical condition which impairs the immune system.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is following up all notified cases of Salmonella Enteritidis and working closely with Agriculture Victoria and the Chief Veterinary Officer to manage the infection in these chickens.
     


What is the issue?

Chickens infected with Salmonella Enteritidis can produce eggs which have the bacteria already inside the egg at the time they are laid. This can increase the chance of a person becoming infected with Salmonella Enteritidis if the egg is consumed raw or not cooked thoroughly.

People who have close contact with infected chickens, their coops or litter (chicken poo) are also at risk of becoming infected if they don’t maintain good hygiene practices, such as washing hands well after coming into contact with chickens, their coops or litter, and before eating and preparing food.

Victoria’s Department of Health & Human Services is working closely with Agriculture Victoria to investigate the source of illness for these cases.

Who is at risk?

Salmonellosis can affect anyone, however most cases occur in children and young adults. The severity of the symptoms depends on the number of bacteria ingested, the age of the individual and their general health. The elderly and anyone with a medical condition which weakens their immune system may be more prone to infection. 

Symptoms and transmission

Symptoms of salmonellosis usually occur between six and 72 hours after eating food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria and commonly last for four to seven days. Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, headache, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk of dehydration and can require admission to hospital for treatment.

Salmonella bacteria can be passed from person to person and from animal to person, so good hand hygiene is important, especially after going to the toilet and before preparing and handling food, and touching pets and other animals. 

Cases should stay home from work, school or childcare until 24 hours after all symptoms have stopped. Food handlers, healthcare workers and childcare workers in particular must stay away from work until 48 hours after the last symptom has ended, because of the higher risk of spread of the infection to large groups or vulnerable populations.

Recommendations

  • Provide clinical management and seek history of contact with domestic pets including back yard chickens if patients present with gastroenteritis, particularly if associated with fever, blood in stool or evidence of dehydration.
  • Test patients with a compatible illness and a history of egg consumption or contact with chickens. Send a faecal specimen that includes culture, as PCR testing will not differentiate Salmonella Enteritidis infection from other types of Salmonella infection.
  • Advise exclusion from work, school or childcare until 24 hours free of symptoms. If your patient is a food handler, healthcare worker or childcare worker, advise your patient to stay away from work until 48 hours after the last symptom has ended.
  • Notify the department at health.vic.gov.au/notify of any confirmed cases of Salmonella infection.

More information

Clinical information

Salmonellosis

Consumer information

For further information see the egg safety and backyard chickens links on the Better Health Channel:

Keeping backyard chickens – what you should know

Eggs

Contacts

Health professionals and consumers can contact the Food Safety Unit at the Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 364 352 or email foodsafety@dhhs.vic.gov.au for further information.