Food-borne botulism is considered to be a rather rare occurrence in the United States, but recently, reported findings of the bacteria in food has led to a health emergency with two outbreaks this year and one reported death. In New Mexico, two adults from Lea County, which happens to be bordering the state of Texas, were hospitalized for illness caused by botulism. The Texas Department of State Health Services is working with The New Mexico Department of Health along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to further investigate the incident.
The second outbreak of botulism appeared in Lancaster, Ohio, when a potluck at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church left 28 people ill and one woman dead. Each person who fell sick after the event was treated at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster.
According to Mark Aebi, a family practitioner from Fairfield County Health, there were about 50 to 60 people who attended the church potluck, but only 28 people fell victim to symptoms of botulism. The rest of those who were in attendance have reported showing no signs or symptoms of the illness, but are being closely watched for the next six days to ensure their health remains in good standing. Health officials feel the seriousness of this health emergency due to botulism being found in food is to be heeded.
In order to determine the exact source of the bacteria, in regards to the specific dish that was consumed by potluck attendees causing the outbreak, health officials went through all the church trash bins collecting different samples in search of any possible leads that would bring them to the origin of the outbreak. According to officials and doctors, health workers have interviewed all those who attended the potluck to help assist in determining the cause. Not only were they interviewed, but their homes were also visited in order for workers to gather test samples of every homemade canned item that was added into any dish that had been served at the church. So far, health officials have been able to narrow the search down to just a few potential items.
According to Dr. Oded Zmora, who is a family practice physician from the University of California Health as well an assistant professor at Cincinnati University College of Medicine, even though health issues concerning botulism in the United States is a rarity, it still holds the title of being one of the most potent toxins that exists today. The toxin is created by a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil, called clostridium botulinum, which also is considered to be nature’s most potent toxin.
To get an idea of just how powerful this toxin really is, it only takes one gram to claim the lives of 1.5 million people. Dr. Zmora urges people to take great precautions when it comes to food preparations. Improperly prepared foods can be the direct cause of bacterial growth and when consumed, can lead to outbreaks similar to the occurrences that have already been reported this year.
There has not yet been any further information released providing the current statuses of either one of the recently reported outbreak cases. Doctors are stressing for people to understand that the illness is not contagious. Botulism, which has been found in foods leading to many recent hospitalizations, is now a real health emergency and officials are emphasizing the importance of knowing the risks that come with homemade canned goods.
By Kameron Hadley
KFDA News Channel 10
Photo By mariko-Creativecommons Flickr License