LOS ANGELES, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Dry pet food may be linked to human salmonella outbreak, according to a new study by U.S. researchers.
The finding was based on analysis of a salmonella outbreak between 2006 and 2008 which was believed to be caused by contaminated dry pet food, said the report published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
In that outbreak, 79 people were infected with the disease. The infections, half of which struck children, are the first known human salmonella cases linked to dry dog and cat food, said the study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"This outbreak really raises concerns for us that dry pet foods might be an unrecognized source of illness, especially for children," CDC veterinary epidemiologist Casey Barton Behravesh said in remarks published by LiveScience on Sunday.
According to the study, salmonella can jump from pet food to humans mostly in the following two ways:
-- Pets can shed salmonella in their feces for up to 12 weeks after infection, even if the dogs themselves don't appear sick, and
-- Children might have also played with the pet food and then put their hands or the food itself in their mouths.
One of the strongest predictors of illness turned out to be whether the family pet was fed in the kitchen or not, the study noted.
For children under age 2, feeding a pet in the kitchen raised the risk of infection about fourfold. It's likely that the salmonella bacteria multiplied in dirty pet-food bowls, making cross-contamination and infection more likely, according to the study.
But the researchers' interviews revealed equal reports of kids playing with or tasting pet food in both infected and uninfected households, suggesting something else was going on.
Although the total number of cases was small, the outbreak emphasizes the need for caution, said Behravesh.
The researchers recommend hand-washing after coming in contact with pets or pet food. Pet food bowls and feeding areas should be regularly disinfected, Behravesh said, and food bowls should be washed outside, not in sinks used for human hygiene or food preparation.
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The bacteria are spread through contact with animal feces or consumption of food contaminated with feces. Most people recover from salmonella infection without treatment, but the illness can be fatal to the very young and very old.