NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- A salmonella outbreak at several preschools in the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles has sickened more than two dozen children and adults in the past week, sending 15 in the hospital, county officials said Thursday.
The outbreak was traced to a North Hollywood kitchen that supplies food to the 29 preschools operated by the Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles, a faith-based nonprofit organization, said David Dassey of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department's communicable disease control.
Salmonella is a bacteria -- usually found in poultry, eggs and meat -- that attacks the stomach and intestines. It causes diarrhea or constipation, headaches, nausea, fever, stomach cramps and vomiting, and is typically spread by improper disinfecting in food preparation.
County public health officials inspected the kitchen, which voluntarily closed at the end of last week and reopened Tuesday, said Bob Pratt, president of the Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles.
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"The (Public) Health Department has given us a clean bill of health," Pratt said.
In addition, letters were sent home to parents informing them of the situation and urging frequent hand-washing and other healthy practices, Pratt said.
"The highest priority is the health of our children," Pratt said. "We want to err on the side of caution."
Dassey said public health investigators were still in the process of determining the extent of the outbreak, which seemed to grow by the hour.
As of noon Thursday, there were 25 confirmed cases, but "that will only go up," he said.
The first reported case occurred at the Maude Booth Family Center, 11243 Kittridge St., in North Hollywood, on Oct. 15, according to Dassey. The center is adjacent to the kitchen facility.
Two days later, a second case showed up at a VOA-run school, raising a red flag to public health officials.
"It had the potential for a broader implication," Dassey said.
Further investigation uncovered a significant number of absences among the schools' students and staff, he said.
The kitchen and all of the schools are undergoing a thorough cleaning by VOA staff, he said.
"They've been extraordinarily cooperative," Dassey said. "Things are going quite smoothly."
Los Angeles County usually has about 800 documented cases of salmonella poisoning per year, though mild cases can be written off as an upset stomach and go unreported, he said.
Salmonella poisoning is fatal in about 1 percent of documented victims, he estimated.