Medical The Biggest Salmonella Outbreaks In US History  

Eric Vega
6.4k views 15 items

The facts about salmonella can be staggering. It's amazing to think, even in countries with strict regulations on food sanity, that foodborne illness outbreaks still occur. The fatality rate of these outbreaks vary, but luckily advances in medicine are lowering death rates associated with salmonella. While historic outbreaks sometimes result in thousands of deaths, prompt treatment can be life saving in modern times. Nevertheless, do not disregard the fact diseases associated with salmonella poisoning can be deadly. People with chronic health conditions, children, and the elderly are more likely to die from salmonella exposure. 

Salmonella bacteria thrives in the digestive system of animals. It mostly passes to humans via inadvertently ingesting contaminated foods. If companies are not careful about ensuring sanitary conditions, this can lead to an epidemic. The worst salmonella outbreaks have left thousands of people ill and sometimes led to bad press or outright bankruptcy for the responsible companies. This list will look at salmonella throughout history. 

Civil War Typhoid Epidemic is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Biggest Salmonella Outbreaks In US History
Photo: A. J. Russell/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Civil War Typhoid Epidemic


The Source: Unsanitary conditions

Number of Infected: Unknown

Number of Deaths: Approximately 65,000 

What Happened: The American Civil War was one of the deadliest conflicts in American history. While violence was rampant, one of the biggest killers of the war was actually disease. Typhoid fever, derived from Salmonella typhi, infected thousands of troops, killing roughly one out of three infected soldiers. Poor sanitary conditions made military camps a breeding ground for various germs. In addition to typhoid, diseases like pneumonia, measles, and tuberculosis resulted in the loss of many lives. 

1906 Philadelphia Typhoid Epid... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Biggest Salmonella Outbreaks In US History
Photo: Petar Milošević/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

1906 Philadelphia Typhoid Epidemic


The Source: Contaminated water from Delaware and Schuylkill rivers

Number of Infected: 10,000 (estimated)

Number of Deaths: 1,000+

What Happened: Water filtration systems would not be introduced to the city of Philadelphia until 1909, and massive outbreaks of typhoid were common until then. At the time, raw sewage was being dumped into the same water systems that supplied drinking water to the city. In 1906, a particularly nasty epidemic swept Pennsylvania, killing over 1,000 people and infecting many more. 

1924-1925 Typhoid Outbreak is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Biggest Salmonella Outbreaks In US History
Photo: photo-graphe/Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons

1924-1925 Typhoid Outbreak


The Source: Contaminated oysters

Number of Infected: 1,500

Number of Deaths: 150

What Happened: Salmonellosis is not the only disease you can get from the Salmonella bacteria. Typhoid fever comes from Salmonella typhi and transfers to humans in a similar manner to other strains. The typhoid fever outbreak during the winter of 1924 to 1925 was one of the deadliest foodborne illness epidemics in US history, killing 150 people and striking terror throughout the Eastern United States. Poor interstate regulation of the oyster industry allowed the outbreak to spread quickly, hitting cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington DC seemingly overnight. The source was eventually traced to a single oyster fishery in West Sayville, Long Island. 

1903 Ithica Typhoid Outbreak is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Biggest Salmonella Outbreaks In US History
Photo: Nicholas A. Tonelli/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

1903 Ithica Typhoid Outbreak


The Source: Contaminated water from Six Mile Creek

Number of Infected: 1,350

Number of Deaths: 82

What Happened: A devastating typhoid epidemic broke out in Ithaca, New York in 1903. The outbreak left 82 people dead, including 29 students from Cornell University. The town's water supply was contaminated after an entrepreneur decided to dam Six Mile Creek. Some of the construction crew had been exposed to Salmonella typhi and, due to poor sanitation, transferred the bacteria into the water.