Officials verify 43 cases of salmonella poisoning

As the number of people who became sick after visiting a Vernon Hills restaurant linked to a salmonella outbreak grew Monday, health officials continued to try to determine the source of the disease.

The Lake County Health Department has confirmed 43 cases and identified 118 credible but unconfirmed cases connected to Chili's Grill & Bar, 567 E. Town Line Rd., said Leslie Piotrowski, a Health Department spokeswoman.

More than 60 people left messages with the Health Department during the holiday weekend, and health officials said they began interviewing the callers Monday to determine if they had credible cases.

Of the confirmed cases, 24 people became ill after eating at the restaurant between June 23 and July 1, health officials said. The other 19 people who got sick are Chili's employees, they said.

Another three employees, who got sick but tested negative for salmonella poisoning, also work at other Lake County restaurants, Piotrowski said. The Health Department has contacted those restaurants, she said.

Meanwhile, the Health Department's communicable disease team continued its investigation into the source of the outbreak.

Several diners who became sick kept some of the leftovers from meals they ate at the restaurant, and health officials said they are working to get that food tested.

Chili's voluntarily closed its doors last week and will remain closed until tests show that its food workers are free of the disease, health officials said.

The Vernon Hills restaurant could have enough healthy staff to reopen by Friday, said Louis Adams, a spokesman for Dallas-based Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's.

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of humans and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The disease is spread by infected people who don't properly wash their hands or by eating contaminated food, health officials said.

Anyone who ate at Chili's in Vernon Hills between June 23 and July 1 and is experiencing symptoms is encouraged to contact a doctor or call the Health Department's Communicable Disease Program at 847-377-8130, health officials said.