Chicken Poisoning

Reporter: Natalie Bonjolo

Dorothy says “he's just like paralysed from the waist down he's got no movement in his legs at all”, food poisoning's never pleasant. but no one expects this. “It was hard to believe, like I say I've heard of people being sick from chicken cause I'd seen reports on tv and stuff”, twelve months ago, Jack Taylor was as fit as a mallee bull. Now, the Perth Granddad may never walk again, paralysed after a classic case of food poisoning caused by chicken. Jack and his wife Dorothy got an upset stomach after eating a bought cooked chook. The side effects lasted several days, a week later Jack thought he was on the mend, until he started getting terrible cramps in his toes “I was walking through the shops I was stumbling, dragging my feet”, within hours, the numbness spread throughout his entire body.

Jack says “I tried to get out of bed to go to the toilet and me legs just didn't work, I just completely collapsed on the floor”, by the time Jack reached the hospital, he was completely paralysed. “I couldn't do anything, I couldn't roll over in bed I couldn't even press the top of a biro with me hand” Jack's worst fear, he was having a heart attack., only there was no pain. That made doctors suspect something else, tests confirmed Jack had a common type of food poisoning called campylobacter. Harry Hemley says “camphylobacter is incredibly common in raw chicken”

The AMA's Dr Harry Hemley says the bug can affect patients differently, “in most cases they won't even present to the doctor, it might only be one or two days of tummy discomfort and diorhea then it resolves” Jack wasn't so lucky. the bacterial infection was so severe, it triggered a second, more serious condition known as Guillain Barre syndrome.

“Guillain Barre is a syndrome that occurs one to three weeks after infection”, The health department's disease control expert Professor Paul Van Buynder says gillian barre syndrome is a disorder of the nervouse system, named after the french doctors who discovered it. It's also known as GBS. “The antibodies produced by the body to attack the bacteria start to attack the bodies nervous system itself”

To kill the bacteria, Jack's immune system made billions of antibodies, they went on the warpath. The problem is campylobacter looks very similar to nerve endings and in the frenzy, the antibodies also attacked Jack's nervous system. “Of the cases we see around 70 percent will fully recover but many require months even years to do that”

Jack's come a long way, but it's been a slow and painful recovery, his upper body's getting stronger, but Jack still struggles to walk. He can only take a few steps with the help of a frame. “I'm unlucky in one way cause I've got it, but Im lucky in another way cause I didn't get the full thing” It's estimated only one in 1000 people who get campylobacter also get BGS. but authorities are worried that number will increase

Of the 5.4 million cases of food poisoning reported to health authorities, camylobacter is the most common, with an estimated 270 000 people infected each year. salmoella comes in second, with almost one hundred thousand, that's a twenty percent increase in both bugs in the past year. Professor Paul Van Buynder says “chicken is a very common cause of the food borne illness but other partially uncooked meats are a problem as well”

Thirty percent of all food poisoning from campylobacter comes from chicken. A recent survey by the Victorian health department revealed a staggering eighty eight percent of chicken samples were contaminated with campylobacter, and a further seventy percent contained salmonella.

“Campylobacter is endemic in chicken populations, it's there all the time, it' a matter of keeping the contamination and infestation in flocks down to as low as possible”, Dr Hemley believes chickens need to be tested for the bacteria prior to slaughter, until then, the only way to avoid getting sick is make sure chicken's thoroughly cooked, keep raw meat separate, and always wash your hands.

Jack says “we still eat chicken but we make sure we cook it ourself and it's dropping off the bone”Jack can't sue the retailer because it's difficult to prove the shop's the precise and exclusive source of the bacteria. His only hope now, is to save others from the same fate, and fingers crossed, walk again, in time for his seventieth birthday.

For more information call your local council or health department 9388 4999