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article imageOne woman dead, 18 sick with botulism linked to church potluck

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 23, 2015 in Health
Lancaster - A suspected botulism outbreak linked to a Ohio church potluck has killed one person and sickened at least 18 others, health officials said Wednesday.
About 50 to 60 people attended lunch on Sunday at the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, around 30 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio, Jennifer Valentine, a spokeswoman for the Fairfield Department of Health told Reuters. She said that most people began getting sick on Tuesday.
The illness claimed the life of a 54-year-old woman on Tuesday, she said.
A rare, but serious paralytic illness, botulism is caused by a nerve toxin produced by a bacterium that is sometimes linked to contaminated food.
Rarely fatal, symptoms of botulism usually begin within 36 hours of eating contaminated food. It can cause paralysis, double vision, difficulty swallowing, and respiratory failure, CNN reports.
All of the people who were sickened attended the potluck, and as many as 60 people ate there, said Ohio Department of Health spokesman Russ Kennedy.
The numbers of those sickened is now down from an earlier estimate. Kennedy says there were about 18 suspected cases, including the woman who died. The youngest patient is only nine years old, while the oldest is 87. As a precaution, 21 people are under hospital observation, he said.
Fairfield Medical Center reports that five patients are listed critical condition, while 10 were taken to hospitals in Columbus.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released 50 vials of antitoxin from the Strategic National Stockpile for the patients, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner, CNN reports. The antitoxin has been distributed to hospitals, where the patients will receive the drugs intravenously.
The hospital urges people who were at the potluck to seek medical help immediately, and an emergency hotline is also open for questions at 740-687-8053, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Each year, about 145 people contract botulism in the United States, and 15 percent of these cases are food-borne, the CDC reports. Infant botulism and wound botulism make up the majority of the cases.
Food-borne botulism is often linked to foods canned at home, especially low-acid foods like green beans, beets, asparagus, and corn, the CDC reports.
Sometimes there are other sources that may seem unlikely, but may be a result of improper food handling by manufacturers, restaurants, or home cooks. This can include chopped garlic in oil, canned cheese sauce, chili peppers, tomatoes, carrot juice and baked potatoes wrapped in foil, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
The toxin can be destroyed by high temperatures, and the CDC recommends that people who eat home-canned foods should boil them for 10 minutes before eating.
Valentine said health officials are still conducting tests to confirm botulism, and health officials are also trying to determine what food may have caused the outbreak, Reuters reports.
While a patient with severe botulism may require medical care for several months, over the past 50 years, the proportion of patients with botulism who die has dropped from 50 percent to between three and five percent, the CDC reports.
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