Mystery outbreak of salmonellosis puts 30 in hospital

Eggs suspected of being the culprits as many fall ill

At least 30 people have been hospitalised after contracting salmonellosis, most likely from contaminated eggs
At least 30 people have been hospitalised after contracting salmonellosis, most likely from contaminated eggs

Salmonella bacteria‚ most likely from contaminated eggs‚ has put at least 30 people in the greater Durban area in hospital‚ and has made many more ill.

Social media reports posted by people who’d contracted salmonellosis after eating at the upmarket Old Town Italy restaurant in Umhlanga – mostly meals including hollandaise sauce – raised the alarm‚ but the outbreak of the past few weeks goes far beyond one restaurant.

Four children attending a Cowies Hill creche were confirmed by doctors to have salmonellosis; seven people who attended a private lunch ended up in Hillcrest Private Hospital for almost a week after eating a dessert made with egg; a Florida Road restaurant closed for two days after its patrons reported falling ill and many pharmacies in the greater Durban area have reported a sudden spike in the demand for diarrhoea medication.

Paulo Franco said his 23-year-old son had been in Umhlanga Hospital since Monday‚ with persistent chronic diarrhoea after eating poached eggs with hollandaise sauce at Old Town Italy on Sunday morning.

“I informed the restaurant privately that Salmonella had been confirmed as the cause‚ and they assured me that they’d handled the problem‚ but hospital staff told us that three more people who’d eaten at Old Town Italy were admitted on Wednesday night.

“So why is the restaurant still open?”

The restaurant posted a response on its Facebook page on Thursday evening: “We have been in personal contact with all families and the health department to get to the bottom of the issue.”

They said they had stopped producing hollandaise sauce in-house and were running tests.

Operations manager Clifford Barratt said it took anything from six to 72 hours for someone to fall ill after eating food contaminated with salmonella.

But Colin Steenhuisen of the SA Poultry Association’s egg board said tests had found no salmonella bacteria in the eggs of the company which supplied Old Town Italy.

“So in this case at least‚ eggs were not the source‚” he said.

The outbreak is not confined to that one restaurant.

The owner of a restaurant in Florida Road‚ who asked not to be named‚ said she had closed the restaurant for two days last week “to do a deep clean and disinfection” after four patrons who’d eaten there fell ill‚ along with two staff members.

And two weekends ago‚ 15 people out of 20 who attended a potjie competition at a private home near Hillcrest fell severely ill.

Seven of them – including three children under 10 – were treated at Hillcrest Private Hospital for five to six days. The hospital confirmed the bacteria was salmonella from eggs.

Four children who attend Huggy Bear creche in Cowies Hill were also confirmed to have contracted salmonellosis‚ some of them being treated in the same ward as those from the potjie party.

Creche owner Anne Westermeyer‚ who closed the creche for a few days‚ said the source was a mystery as she did not serve eggs to the children.

A Hillcrest pharmacist‚ who asked not to be named‚ suspected a food-borne disease outbreak and contacted several doctors in the area‚ who confirmed it.

Speculation about which egg supplier is the source of the outbreak is rife.

One egg supplier said a KwaZulu-Natal-based company had imported millions of dozen-pack eggs from Brazil, which had led to a flood of cheap eggs on the market.

eThekwini municipality’s environmental health practitioners have been involved in all the cases‚ according to those involved.

TimesLIVE approached both the municipal and provincial health departments for a response‚ which is still pending.