Chicago illness cluster shows risks posed by chitterlings

Oct 13, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – A recent cluster of Yersinia enterocolitica infections in Chicago infants illustrates the risks associated with preparing and eating chitterlings (pork intestines), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nine infants had gastroenteritis linked with Y enterocoltica in November and December of 2002, the CDC said in the Oct 10 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Only one child had no history of exposure to chitterlings. The other eight had spent time in a household where chitterlings were prepared, and one of them had eaten the dish. The cases were confirmed by laboratory tests.

Six of the babies were hospitalized, with a median stay of 5 days, according to the report. The illness was limited to gastroenteritis, and all nine infants recovered. One child had a coinfection with Salmonella and was hospitalized for 6 days because of possible intussusception.

The report says that chitterlings are a traditional winter holiday food in some black families and that Y enterocolitica is transferred from raw chitterlings to infants via the hands of caretakers. "Preparation of chitterlings requires thorough cleaning before cooking, an extensive process usually performed at home," the article says. "Special care should be taken when handling raw chitterlings, including careful hand washing by persons cleaning chitterlings before touching children or anything used by children."

Public health officials and clinicians should be aware of the possibility of Y enterocolitica as a cause of gastroenteritis, especially in black communities during the winter holidays, the report states.

For unknown reasons, the incidence of Y enterocolitica gastroenteritis has been decreasing for years, the CDC says. The FoodNet program, involving active surveillance for foodborne diseases in all or parts of nine states, reported 0.44 cases per 100,000 population in 2002.

CDC. Yersinia enterocolitica gastroenteritis among infants exposed to chitterlings—Chicago, Illinois, 2002. MMWR 2003 Oct 10;52(40):956-8

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