One Dead in Botulism Outbreak Linked to Sardines

A dozen people affected in incident at wine bar in France's Bordeaux region
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 15, 2023 3:15 AM CDT
Fatal Botulism Outbreak Tied to Wine Bar Sardines
Hillary Jackson of New York, right, and Kristy Benner from Los Angeles pose outside the Saint-Andre hospital in Bordeaux, southwestern France, Thursday, Sept.14, 2023.   (AP Photo/Sophie Garcia)

Matt Jackson was riding an electric bike through France's Bordeaux wine country when he started feeling strange. Nine days later, he's on a breathing machine in a French intensive care unit, unable to open his eyes, communicating only via notes on a whiteboard—and infected with botulism. Jackson was among the first of a dozen people who ate preserved sardines in a Bordeaux wine bar last week to be hospitalized with what French authorities believe is the rare and potentially fatal illness. One, a 32-year-old woman from the Paris region, has died, the AP reports. Officials issued an appeal around France and beyond to find others who might have eaten the suspicious sardines and might be at risk.

Among those sickened have been visitors from the US, Ireland, Canada, Germany, and Spain, according to regional health authority ARS. Jackson and his partner Kristy Benner, on vacation from Hermosa Beach, California, stopped by the Tchin Tchin Wine Bar on Sept. 4, and sampled wine with small plates of sardines and charcuterie. After two days at Jackson's side in the hospital, Benner started feeling parched herself, and having trouble swallowing; she suspected botulism but doctors were at first skeptical. It took days to confirm a link to the sardines, and to get them both access to anti-toxins for a disease that French hospitals encounter infrequently. France records only 10 to 20 cases of botulism nationwide per year.

Food-borne botulism is a rare illness from eating foods contaminated with the botulinum toxin and can cause paralysis, breathing difficulty, and sometimes death. Homemade foods that have been improperly canned, preserved, or fermented are common sources. At least 12 people who ate the preserves between Sept. 4 and Sept. 10 have been hospitalized, according to an ARS official. Some have been released but most remain in intensive care or critical condition, the official said. All exhibited symptoms typical of botulism, which can include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking, and neurological problems.

(More botulism stories.)

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