Background: Campylobacter jejuni is a leading cause of acute gastroenteritis worldwide, and most cases are identified as sporadic events rather than as parts of recognized outbreaks. We report findings from a substantial 2008 campylobacteriosis outbreak with general implications for fresh produce safety.
Methods: We conducted a matched case-control study to determine the source of the outbreak and enhanced surveillance to identify additional cases. Clinical and environmental specimens were tested for Campylobacter, and isolates were subtyped by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE).
Results: By routine surveillance, we identified 63 cases of laboratory-confirmed infection. Only raw peas, consumed by 30 (67%) of 45 case-patients and by 15 (17%) of 90 control participants, were associated with illness (adjusted odds ratio: 8.2; P<.001). An additional 69 patients (26 laboratory-confirmed) who reported eating raw peas within 10 days of illness onset were identified through enhanced surveillance. In all, 5 cases were hospitalized, and Guillain-Barré syndrome developed in 1 case; none died. The implicated pea farm was located near a Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) stopover and breeding site. Of 36 environmental samples collected, 16 were positive for C. jejuni-14 crane-feces samples and 2 pea samples. We identified 25 unique combined SmaI-KpnI PFGE patterns among clinical isolates; 4 of these combined PFGE patterns identified in 15 of 55 human isolates were indistinguishable from PFGE patterns identified in environmental samples.
Conclusions: This investigation established a rare laboratory-confirmed link between a campylobacterosis outbreak and an environmental source and identified wild birds as an underrecognized source of produce contamination.
© The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. All rights reserved.