Two sisters in California are fighting for their lives in intensive care after eating a SALAD contaminated with deadly, paralyzing bacteria

By Connor Boyd, Health and Science Editor for Dailymail.Com

14:36 ​​04 Jul 2024, updated 15:00 04 Jul 2024

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Health officials investigating a bacterial outbreak at a California party have discovered the cause was a contaminated salad.

Two sisters who attended last weekend’s family gathering in Fresno County are in intensive care on ventilators after eating cactus pads containing C. botulinum.

These toxins enter foods that have not been properly preserved. Once inside the body, they attack nerves, paralyzing muscles and organs such as the lungs.

About 10 others who attended the party were hospitalized with symptoms of botulism, including blurred vision and dizziness, but have since been discharged.

Interviews revealed that they had all attended the same family gathering and eaten a homemade cactus salad.

An outbreak of a bacterial infection has been found, the cause of which can be traced back to a contaminated cactus salad (broth)

Norma Sanchez, an infectious disease specialist with the Fresno County Public Health Department, said they identified the infected cactus after searching through trash cans.

Sanchez’s team then tracked down the woman who had prepared the salad and discovered that the cactus leaves, or nopales, had been prepared at home in May and stored in jars.

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The bacteria that causes botulism are found in the soil of the Earth and on the ocean floor, where they can remain on the surface of foods such as fruits, vegetables and seafood.

These bacteria produce spores, which act as protective layers and are generally harmless.

However, warm, humid, oxygen-poor spaces, such as plastic jars and cans, can cause the bacteria to release toxins that affect the central nervous system.

According to the CDC, low-acid foods are the most common sources of botulism from home canning. These include asparagus, green beans, beets, corn, and nopales.

Sanchez said the remaining pots with the cacti were found in ‘poor condition’ in a shed.

“The food had been sitting there for a couple of days – it was 104 degrees outside,” Sanchez told local media. “I was just amazed.”

The woman told health officials she did not follow specific safety guidelines and that she learned how to can from family and friends.

One of the sisters, who is still in the hospital, had eaten the contaminated salad for three days in a row. The second had eaten it twice.

The CDC estimates that there are only 25 cases of foodborne botulism per year in the U.S., making the disease extremely rare.

About five percent of people who develop botulism die, according to the CDC. For others, it can cause lifelong disability and extreme physical therapy.

The cactus leaves or nopales (pictured here) were prepared at home in May and stored incorrectly

Patients who are paralyzed must relearn how to walk, talk and perform daily tasks.

The Fresno Health Department is urging people to store and cook their food properly to reduce the risk of botulism.

At temperatures above 4 degrees Celsius, bacterial spores can form more easily.

Food that may become contaminated should be heated to 110–120°C and should be heated through.

According to the CDC, symptoms of botulism include difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, double vision, drooping eyelids, blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty breathing and difficulty moving the eyes.

A food infection can also cause vomiting, nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea.

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