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Penn State researchers zero in on Salmonella ID

Thursday, May 30, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

Penn State researchers report they have found a faster method of identifying Salmonella strains, which could help health officials more quickly discover the source of food-poisoning outbreaks.

“We need to be able to trace outbreaks as soon as they happen,” said Nikki Shariat, a molecular microbiology postdoctoral researcher in the school's food science department and lead author of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology's May issue.

The method, which can pinpoint a strain within a day, focuses on DNA sequence and can detect strain-specific differences. That's compared with up to three days for the most commonly used method, Shariat said.

“It can be accurate, but it also can be a bit ambiguous,” Shariat said. “Ours isn't ambiguous.”

Shariat and fellow researchers used Salmonella samples provided by the state Department of Health, including from an outbreak last summer associated with tomatoes that sickened 37 people statewide.

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled six mass food-poisonings associated with Salmonella as outbreaks. Two outbreaks affected people in Pennsylvania, one tied to live poultry and the other to ground beef.

State and Allegheny County health officials could not be reached for comment.

Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause intestinal illness. Salmonella serotype Typhimurium and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis are the most common in the United States, the CDC says. Salmonellosis sickens 40,000 people nationwide each year and kills an estimated 600.

For every reported case, 29 go unreported, the CDC estimates.

Symptoms including diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps develop 12 hours to three days after infection. The illness can last up to a week. Severe cases can require hospitalization.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or

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