Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health have found that extreme weather conditions increase the risk of contracting a Salmonella infection. It is the first study of its kind to provide empirical evidence that the bacteria is connected to powerful meteorological events.
While the results are tied specifically to the coastal regions of Maryland, the research could help prevent outbreaks of the bacteria in the future.
Salmonella is a food or waterborne bacteria that can be found in raw poultry, beef, eggs, or unwashed produce. An infection can cause extreme distress to a person’s digestive system. Symptoms may include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. There are nearly 1.2 million cases of gastroenteritis caused by Salmonella in the U.S. every year.
Researchers were able to connect salmonella infections, or salmonellosis, with weather conditions after studying data from the Maryland health department and connecting them to extreme heat and precipitation periods from 2002-2012. The data stretched back more than 30 years, so scientists had plenty of information to base their theory on.
Coastal areas most affected
“We found that extremely hot days and periods of extreme rainfall are contributing to Salmonella infections in Maryland, with the most dramatic impacts being seen in the coastal communities,” said Dr. Amir Sapkota, who is an associate professor at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health.
Due to their proximity to water, the coastal regions of Maryland did see more Salmonella infections. These areas experienced a 5.1% increase in infection rates after extreme heat events, as compared to 1.5% for non-coastal areas. Large amounts of rainfall made an even heavier impact, with the infection rate increasing by 7.1%, compared with 3.6% for non-coastal areas.
Nearly 10,000 cases of Salmonella infections were recorded in Maryland between 2002 and 2012. The researchers hope that this new information will help people to avoid infections at times when they are most vulnerable. “As we prepare for the future, we need to take this differential burden into account,” said Dr. Sapkota.
The fully study has been published in the journal Environment International.