The Hawaii State Department of Health is investigating 14 cases of Salmonella infection on Oahu. Reported cases include both children and adults. All of the cases developed diarrheal illness from mid- to late October and four have required hospitalization. Although a source has not yet been confirmed, preliminary investigations identified consumption of raw fish, specifically poke that contains limu (also called “ogo” or “seaweed”), in common among cases. The tainted limu has been linked to a seaweed farm on Oahu which was ordered by the department to halt operations and advise its customers to remove product from sale immediately.

Salmonella bacteria (red)/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Salmonella bacteria (red)/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

What is limu poke?

Modern poke typically consists of cubed raw ʻahi (yellowfin tuna) marinated with sea salt, a small amount of soy sauce, inamona (roasted crushed candlenut), sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chopped chili pepper.

“Although our investigation is still ongoing, our preliminary investigation has implicated limu, also known as ogo or seaweed, produced at a particular farm on Oahu,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “To protect the public’s health, the department stepped in to make sure this product is no longer being put on the market pending further investigation. At the same time, we want the public to be aware of the situation so they may seek medical care if needed.”

Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause illness in humans who come in contact with affected animals or their waste, either by direct contact or by contaminated food or water. Common symptoms of Salmonella infection are diarrhea (which may be bloody), abdominal pain, and fever. Nausea and vomiting can also occur. Symptoms typically begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. Persons who are experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care. Infants and the elderly, as well as persons with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, are vulnerable to more serious illness and even death.