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Antibiotics are needed only if the infection spreads to the blood, said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health. ((CBC))

One person has died and 87 cases of salmonellosis have been linked to three brands of contaminated cheese in Quebec, provincial health authorities said Friday in announcing a recall.

The raft of cases occurred in three areas: Chaudière-Appalaches, Estrie-Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec, Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, told a news conference in Montreal.

The three areas, which are in zones south of Quebec City, the Eastern Townships and central Quebec, experienced an unusually high incidence of cases in recent weeks. Quebec normally sees 1,000 cases of salmonellosis province-wide every year.

The death was an elderly person in Chaudière-Appalaches, Arruda said.

About 40 per cent of the people infected had to be hospitalized for at least a day to be rehydrated or for other symptoms, Arruda said. More cases are expected to occur in the three regions.

Suspected cause of outbreak found, 3 brands recalled

The Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in co-operation with Fromages la Chaudière of Lac-Mégantic, warned consumers not to eat any of the non-refined hard cheeses called La Chaudière, Polo and Tradition because they might contain Salmonella enteritidis bacteria.

Products produced between July 24 and Aug. 24 have been recalled.

At the beginning of the investigation, anecdotal information and questionnaires pointed to cheese being involved in the outbreak, Arruda said.

"We immediately ordered a special study of the patients as well as other individuals in the region who could have eaten the same food in order to identify the cause," Arruda said in French. "We found a similar genetic print in many of these cases."

"We believe there could be contamination from a specific distribution point."

Proper hygiene important

Young children, elderly people and people with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk of rare complications of salmonellosis, such as dehydration.

Most healthy people will recover from salmonella food poisoning on their own, and antibiotics are needed only if the infection spreads to the blood, Arruda noted.

Anyone who develops symptoms of fever or chills should consult their doctor, he advised.

Previous outbreaks of salmonellosis in Canada have been linked to fruits and vegetables, small animals such as pets infected with the bacteria, and chocolate. 

People are urged to wash their hands properly after using the washroom, touching an animal, raw meat, or knives and cutting boards used to prepared uncooked food.

Guy Auclair of the province's Agricultural Department said the strain found in the Quebec cheese is not linked to the listeria-tainted processed meat that prompted a recall of more than 200 products made by a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.