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ATLANTA - Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last evening were still trying to determine the cause of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 172 people in 19 states.
The outbreak is the second major food health scare in a month, and might once again involve produce. But so far, federal health officials have not been able to link the foodborne illnesses to any grower, restaurant, or supermarket chain.
Officials said, however, that lettuce and tomatoes are at the top of the list of suspects.
The outbreak has so far put 11 people in the hospital, health officials said. No deaths have been attributed to the outbreak, which involves a common form of salmonella bacteria.
"We're very early in the investigation," said Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC, which detected the outbreak two weeks ago thanks to a national computer lab system that looks for patterns and matches in reports of food-borne illness.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has joined the CDC in the effort to trace the outbreak to its origin.
Interestingly, most of the cases in the present salmonella outbreak involve adults, and more than 60 percent are women, said Dr. Chris Braden, a CDC epidemiologist investigating the latest incident.
Health experts added that the illness might spread further. "We need to be very aware in all states, because this is likely to be found elsewhere," Dr. Alan Taege of the Cleveland Clinic was quoted as saying.
Last month, the FDA ordered several brands of packaged spinach taken off the shelves nationwide after E. Coli bacteria was discovered. That outbreak killed three people and sickened more than 200 before health officials traced it back to farmland in California.