At least 56 people in eight counties in Washington state have been sickened by a rare strain of salmonella food poisoning apparently linked to eating pork, health officials said.

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At least 56 people in eight Washington counties have been sickened by a rare strain of salmonella food poisoning apparently linked to eating pork, health officials said Thursday. Most of the cases, 44, have occurred in King County.

The individual cases and small clusters have occurred in several foods and at several events across the region as of Wednesday. Other meat sources could be to blame as well, health officials said. Five people have been hospitalized.

“Why we’re sending out this message now before the investigation is complete is because we’re saying: ‘You’ve got to be really careful with raw meat,’ ” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist.

Some of the cases appear to be tied to whole-pig roasts, he added.

The outbreak strain is Salmonella I, 4, 5, 12:i: -, a germ that has been emerging nationally during the past five years, but never before seen in Washington state, Lindquist said.

Because of the unique nature of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are assisting with the investigation, Lindquist said.

No cases have been reported in states bordering Washington, so officials are investigating whether pork or other meat processed and distributed in the state might be involved in the outbreak.

In addition to the 44 cases in King County, the outbreak includes four cases in Snohomish County, two each in Mason and Thurston counties and one case each in Pierce, Grays Harbor, Yakima and Clark counties.

In the King County cases, some people have reported eating pork or beef during the period they were exposed to the foodborne bacteria, said Hilary Karasz, a spokeswoman for Public Health — Seattle & King County. Other cases appeared to be associated with chicken or having contact with live poultry, swine and cattle.

The salmonella bacteria also appear to be resistant to antibiotics used to treat infection, making illness more dangerous, particularly to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people recover within a few days, but infections can cause serious illness or death.

Infections can be prevented by washing hands, cutting boards and kitchen surfaces with hot, soapy water; by avoiding cross-contamination of meat and other foods; and by cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

The statewide outbreak comes even as King County officials say they’ve seen a spike in salmonella cases, with 141 confirmed or probable illnesses reported between June 1 and July 23. That compares to an average of 39 cases during the same time period the past five years.

Notable King County outbreaks included a June 7 church potluck at which 27 people developed confirmed or probable illnesses. No source was identified at the event, which included no catered or commercially prepared food.

In addition, at least 10 confirmed or probable illnesses occurred at a private graduation party on June 19. Salmonella Heidelberg linked to storage, handling and cooking of marinated chicken and turkey was the likely cause, health officials said. It was the same strain linked to a 2012-2013 national outbreak of salmonella infections associated with Foster Farms chicken.

At least 16 confirmed or probably salmonella illnesses were linked to raw eggs served during Father’s Day brunch meals at Tallulah’s restaurant in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

In 2010, the CDC reported an outbreak of Salmonella I, 4, 5, 12 :i:- tied to frozen rodents used for feeding reptiles. That outbreak sickened nearly three dozen people.