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8-week-old baby sickened by dry dog food, lawsuit claims

A New Jersey father who claims his 8-week-old son was sickened by salmonella-tainted dry dog food is suing the maker of the recalled product and Costco, the store that sold it.

Lawyers for Nevin Eisenberg, 37, of Marlboro, N.J., filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in New Jersey alleging that products made by Diamond Pet Food Processors of Gaston, S.C., landed the infant in the hospital with an infection caused by a rare strain of salmonella Infantis.

“He was really worried, really freaking out,” said Elliot L. Olsen, an attorney representing Eisenberg.

That’s the same salmonella strain identified in an outbreak that has sickened 15 people in nine states and another in Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lawsuit appears to be the first linked to the outbreak tied to the recall of nearly a dozen brands of dry pet food manufactured by Diamond Pet Food Processors, including several of Costco Wholesale Corp.'s Kirkland Signature brands of dog and cat food. The pet food was distributed in dozens of U.S. states, mostly in the east and south, several Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico. For details, click here.

In Eisenberg’s case, the child identified only as C.A.E. developed severe diarrhea, fever and loss of appetite.  “Moreover, he was in obvious pain and was extremely uncomfortable,” the suit claims.

The child’s parents took him to a pediatrician, who sent the child immediately to the emergency room at St. Peter's University Hospital. He was hospitalized for three days. Tests of stool samples were positive for salmonella, later confirmed by Monmouth County, N.J., Health Department officials to be salmonella Infantis.

“They were really worried, especially when they saw the child was sick enough to be hospitalized,” Olsen said.

It is not clear how the child may have contracted the illness, Olsen said. The father had been buying bulk bags of Costco dry food at a store in Morganville, N.J., for months for the family’s two dogs, Bailey, an 85-pound retriever mix, and Gracie, a 15-pound rat terrier mix. The dogs did not get sick.

Samples of the family’s pet food sent to Monmouth County for laboratory analysis did not test positive for salmonella, Olsen said. He suggested that the contamination with the rare salmonella strain could have come from an earlier batch.

The contamination was detected in April when routine tests by Michigan agriculture officials detected salmonella in an unopened bag of Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal & Rice dry dog food. Public health investigators then used the CDC's PulseNet service to identify recent cases of human illness with a genetic fingerprint that matched the strain found in the bag of dry food.

Diamond Pet Food officials did not answer calls seeking comment on how much of the recalled food has been returned. 

CDC officials said people can transmit salmonella germs after contact with contaminated pet food or pets. Salmonella can be shed in the stool of pets for four to six weeks after infections.

Health officials are urging consumers to check their homes for recalled pet food and discard it promptly in sealed containers to prevent other animals from accessing it.

Pet owners should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water after contact with animals or their food.

Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Most cases resolve on their own, but in children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, hospitalization may be necessary.

The baby is recovering, Olsen said, but such a young child will have to be closely watched for signs of organ damage after a severe infection.

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