Bizarre 'mass illness' sickens dozens in North Louisiana

Louisiana's Department of Health is investigating a potential salmonella outbreak in Caldwell Parish that has sickened more than 100 and may have contributed to one death. 

Local and state authorities trying to determine if the death of a 56-year-old man, Duane Reitzell, was connected to a mass illness.

Samantha Hartmann, press officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, said preliminary tests of samples have returned positive for salmonella. 

Additional information will be available from the department as Thursday progresses. 

The possibility of a food poisoning outbreak was reported Wednesday afternoon by the Louisiana Department of Health.

Sheriff Clay Bennett, who also is sick, said more than 100 residents have sought medical treatment.

Richard Meredith, mayor of Columbia, said this is unprecedented for the town.

"It's bizarre," Meredith said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's affected a lot of people, maybe a couple of hundred from my best estimation. I think they are trying to narrow it down — the when, what, where and why — I'm not sure to what conclusion."

He said local businesses are still open but many do have a couple of employees out. 

For Friday, the mayor's court of Columbia has been closed due to the illness, per a post on the Caldwell Parish Sheriff's Office Facebook page. 

The new court date will be Dec. 15 and does not impact Caldwell Parish District Court.

“Everybody is trying to figure out what’s going on," said Drew Keahey, a Caldwell Parish farmer and president of the Tensas Basin Levee District board. "No bigger than we are, when there are 200 people in the hospital, everybody knows somebody who is sick.

Keahey, a director of Homeland Bank, said more than 10 people left the bank Tuesday with sickness.

Bennett said workers at the sheriff's office also fell ill Tuesday afternoon.

He said employees ate jambalaya from a local softball fundraiser, but no one was certain about the origin of the illness. Bennett said the illness could have come from anything. 

The Department of Health said in a short statement it had been “notified of a possible food-related gastrointestinal disease outbreak.” A disease surveillance specialist is investigating the incident.

The statement didn't identify the source of the outbreak, including whether they believe it might trace to a restaurant, community event or something else. 

"At this time the LDH is investigating the cause of the illness and working to learn how many people have been impacted," the statement continued. "At this time, we are not sure if this virus is contagious or not, but it is a good reminder to stay home if you are ill and practice proper hand hygiene."

 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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