Botulism Outbreak At Ohio Church Potluck Kills One, Sickens At Least 18

Tara Dodrill

A botulism outbreak at an Ohio church potluck has caused one death and nearly 20 illnesses. The botulism death and sicknesses occurred at a Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church potluck in Lancaster.

The Ohio botulism outbreak was first reportedly thought to be merely cases of food poisoning until some of the Lancaster church potluck attendees began experiencing blurred vision, slurred speech, and "droopy" eyelids. In addition to the one botulism death and 18 ill patients, another 21 Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church members who also dined at the potluck are being "watched" for signs of the illness.

The oldest botulism outbreak victim in Ohio is 87 and the youngest is 9, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The Lancaster botulism fatality involved a 55-year-old woman. Fairfield Department of Health representative Jennifer Valentine said all of the church potluck botulism patients have received an intravenous antitoxin to help combat the food-borne illness.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that one Ohio botulism patient was placed on a ventilator but has since improved and is breathing on her own. The Dispatch report also indicates that patients did not begin receiving the antitoxin until early Wednesday morning. The botulism antitoxin infusions reportedly began around 2 a.m. at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center after the medication arrived, said infectious-disease expert Dr. Julie Mangino. The medication is reportedly a one-time dose that takes up to three hours to administer.

The antitoxin is believed to protects against seven different types of botulism. The medication protects those exposed to botulism by "blocking the neurotoxin's ability to get to nerve receptors," Mangino said. The sooner the antitoxin is administered, the more effective it is, the Dr. Mangino added.

"It prevents worsening. It is not going to reverse what has already happened. You want to give it when we see the start of the illness... if the person is already intubated that person is going to have a very long period of recovery," Mangino added.

Initial symptoms of botulism mirror a lot of health problems: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Then neurological symptoms start from the head down, usually beginning with drooping eyelids (often just one), speech problems, and an inability to hold one's head up, before progressing to more life-threatening problems in the lungs, Mangino said.

Lancaster health investigators are still working to determine the source of the church potluck botulism outbreak. The Ohio health officials are currently reviewing a list of more than 20 foods served at the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church potluck. Both food from potluck attendees' homes and trash from church containers are being examined to help determine the origin of the botulism outbreak.

Fairfield County Health Commissioner Dr. Makr Aebi said improperly home-canned foods are "highly suspect" as a botulism source. The CDC claims that food-borne botulism outbreaks are usually linked to home-canned food, low-acid foods such as green beans, asparagus, beets, and corn, in particular.

Will the Ohio church potluck botulism stop you from eating at community functions or canning your own produce?

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