Church potluck dinner leaves 20 people sick and one dead


By Michal Ortner

A church potluck in Ohio has left around 20 sick and one dead. The cause of the outbreak of the illness is botulism—a contamination containing Clostridium botulinum. Botulism is usually not fatal, and susceptibility for contracting the illness is very rare.

Though less than 20,000 people suffer from botulism a year in America, a 54-year-old woman has died from it. She and at least 20 others were admitted to Fairfield Medical Center. According to Donna Stalter, an FMC representative, the hospital has not decided to release the woman’s name yet.

Currently, the diagnosis of botulism is only speculative by medical officials and has not been confirmed. “We’re pretty sure it’s botulism,” Dr. Andrew Murry of Fairfield Medical Center said. “But until all the testing comes back, it’s presumed botulism.”

The potluck took place on Sunday at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, OH. Nearly 60 people are said to have eaten, but only a couple dozen are under observation for botulism. Health officials have taken precautions by confiscating all the food items from the church grounds.

On Tuesday, 50 units of anti-toxin were transported to Fairfield Medical Center from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to CDC representative Tom Skinner, these anti-toxins are part of the Strategic National Stockpile.

“In this day and age, botulism from food is fairly rare. Generally, it’s canned foods,” said Dr. Murry. “The fatality rate is usually fairly low.”

Botulism is not contagious and cannot be transmitted to others. Those who have been admitted to the hospital with symptoms all ate at the church luncheon.

“It is not a threat to our patients, visitors or staff or the community at large,” Murry said.

The spokesman for Ohio’s Health Department says that the youngest affected by the toxin is nine and the oldest it 87. Five church members were in critical condition as of Wednesday, and 10 were transported to medical centers in Columbus.

Symptoms of botulism appear within a 36-hour range of consuming the toxin through contaminated food—typically canned foods. According to Dr. Robert Glatter, signs of botulism include “nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, double vision, progressing to dilated and fixed pupils, followed by signs of a symmetrical descending paralysis, from the muscles of the upper extremities and trunk, descending toward the lower extremities and feet.”

Recovery from the illness can take up to three months, according to Dr. Glatter.



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