Watermelons linked to deadly salmonella outbreak that has killed one and left 33 ill in UK

One person has died and at least 33 more have fallen ill from salmonella poisoning that is believed to be linked to eating imported watermelons.

The sufferers, aged from six months to 85, have all fallen ill since December. The number of cases is three times higher than is normally expected in a two-month period.

The one person to die had been suffering from a number of underlying health problems.

Source of outbreak Watermelon samples tested positive for Salmonella Newport

Source of outbreak Watermelon samples tested positive for Salmonella Newport

The same strain of the bug – called Salmonella Newport – has been identified in five food poisoning cases in Ireland and another 15 in Germany.

Details of the outbreak were revealed by Britain’s Health Protection Agency(HPA), which is investigating the source alongside the Food Standards Agency(FSA).

The presence of the bug was first identified by HPA scientists carrying out routine sampling of a range of foods for the presence of another harmful bug, Listeria.

These tests found Salmonella Newport on watermelon samples and subsequently, a number of cases of illness were reported by doctors around the country.

The HPA said: 'Infection with Salmonella Newport causes a similar illness to other forms of Salmonella infection and symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

'One person has died although they had serious underlying health complications. Seventy per cent of cases were women, with the east of England having more cases than other regions.'

CONFIRMED CASES

• England – 26
• Wales – 3
• Northern Ireland – 1
• Scotland – 4
• Republic of Ireland – 5
• Germany – 15

Dr Bob Adak, head of the
gastrointestinal diseases department at the HPA, said: 'Although it’s too
soon to say with certainty what the likely cause of infection is, early
indications suggest that a number of people became unwell after eating
watermelon.

'This has also been noted in the cases in Scotland and Germany although further investigation is on-going.

'It's important to remember the risk
of becoming unwell after eating watermelon is very low.

'These cases only
represent a very small proportion of total consumption. It is always
advisable to wash fruits and vegetables – including watermelon – before
consumption to reduce the risk of possible illness.

'Colleagues from the Food Standards
Agency are part of the outbreak control team and they are working with
us to identify the source of this outbreak.'

Around 200 cases of Salmonella Newport are reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland each year.

Salmonella Newport has been found in
many different foods in previous UK outbreaks – the largest one was in
2004 and was associated with lettuce at restaurants
and takeaways.