Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Food Poisoning: Burger King or Carnegie Center?

Have you eaten at Carnegie Center or Burger King recently and ended up with these symptoms: vomiting, diarrehea which may contain blood or mucus, cramps, achy joints and muscles? If you have, head to a doctor. You may have shigella, a rare food borne bacteria -- in other words, food poisoning -- for which Carnegie and Burger King have been pinpointed as possible sources.

Why is Carnegie suspect? Because a Downtown Eastside resident who got the rare food poisoning had been eating there regularly before coming down with it the Saturday before last. This person's case of shigella has been confirmed by lab tests.

A volunteer who regularly bought soup at Carnegie had the same symptoms, only much milder. And this volunteer, long before learning of the confirmed food poisoning case, mentioned that there was talk at Carnegie about people there having "the runs". Whether any of these people had food poisoning was never confirmed. Their symptoms are easy to brush off as the flu, but they may not be the flu.

Why is Burger King suspect? Because the night before vomiting, the person with the confirmed case of food poisoning had eaten a small burger at Burger King on Main St. near Terminal. The burger was eaten about 8:30 p.m. and the next morning at 8:30 a.m., the person was vomiting. The person says the burger had been made fresh; it hadn't been sitting under the heat lamp. The victim of food poisoning had been feeling dragged out, though, "like I was fighting something off" for several days before eating at Burger King. (The victim did come down with a cough too, so maybe that's what they were fighting off.)

About a week before getting sick, the person confirmed to have food poisoning had also eaten some pre-cooked barbeque salmon purchased from the cooler at Metrotown Superstore. The person also ate some fresh kale purchased at Superstore.

The DTES resident confirmed to have the food poisoning says that in the past they have not had a problem eating at Carnegie. In fact, in 20 years they have heard of only one person getting sick there; a woman vomited after eating a greasy soup there. [Update: Since this post was published, a Carnegie staff person gave a few people photocopies about shigella. She said there was an outbreak in the neighborhood. According to the handout, shigella often has a 2-3 day incubation period but it can be as long as 7 days or as little as 1 day.

One doctor who discovered that the patient had shigella or "shigellosis" said she has not seen a case of this in a decade. But shigella has recently been turning up in clusters around Vancouver, she said, so Public Health officials are attempting to track it. Public Health officials have not yet had a chance to speak to the Downtown Eastside resident whose case of shigella has been confirmed. But the doctor said they will want to know where this person has eaten.

The person with the confirmed case of shigella is still weak and sleeping every few hours through the day. The doctor prescribed antibiotics to be taken three times a day. She assured the patient, "You'll get better."