MOH monitoring rising number of salmonella cases

Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: When Mdm Chia started having abdominal pain, she thought it was nothing serious. She took some painkillers, thinking that the pain would go away. But instead, she vomited twice and had diarrhoea up to 10 times within a day.

“I have no idea what I ate because Singapore is very clean and I just ate normal food like those at the food court and I didn’t go overseas at all,” said Mdm Chia.

Mdm Chia was admitted to hospital the next day and was diagnosed with salmonella gastroenteritis on May 8. The condition is caused by a food-borne pathogen that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever.

Mdm Chia is one of the 1,042 people infected by salmonella so far this year. According to data published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on its website, the number of people infected has increased over the years. Since 2012, the cases have risen by about 30 per cent to about 2,000 in 2015. The trend looks set to continue, with the number of cases so far in 2016 exceeding the 779 that were reported between January and Jun 20 last year.

In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, an MOH spokesperson said human salmonellosis is generally associated with the consumption of contaminated poultry, meat and eggs.

The spokesperson added that the ministry is working closely with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the National Environment Agency to monitor the situation and better understand the reasons behind the increase.


Dr Desmond Wai, a gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the bacteria is not airborne but noted that it could be spread via faecal to oral transmission.

“Patients who have salmonella, there will be bacteria in their stools. So if they don’t wash their hands properly; they touch other objects; they prepare food for other people, they can potentially spread the infection to other people,” said Dr Wai.

Dr Wai added that salmonella could be present in raw poultry and eggs and can be spread through person-to-person contact.

“Salmonella can especially go to the ovaries of chickens. So inside the egg yolk, it could have the bacteria. If people just eat the half-boiled egg or raw egg, they can actually get the infection,” said Dr Wai.

“If you are washing a chicken that contains salmonella, our hands or the water splashed onto the sink may have the bacteria,” he explained.

In Singapore, the AVA conducts inspections regularly to ensure imported food is free from contamination. The products also have to comply with local food safety standards and requirements, an AVA spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.

"Our sampling tests cover a wide range of chemical contaminants and microbiological hazards such as antibiotics and hormones as well as microbial hazards, for example, Salmonella," said the spokesperson, adding that contaminated products will not be allowed for sale and it will be destroyed.

Even as the Government is taking precautionary measures to prevent contaminated food imports from reaching Singapore shores, individuals should still do their part through good hygiene habits, such as washing their hands with soap and water before meals, said Dr Wai.

For Mdm Chia, who is still recovering from a salmonella infection, she has started paying more attention to her hygiene practices.

“Besides washing my hands with soap regularly, I'm also using surgical hand wash before meals,” she said.

- CNA/jq