Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That chicken dinner? It might make you sick

MSNBC: "Jenelle Dorner, 32, of Bloomington, Indiana, doesn’t eat chicken. In fact, she hardly eats anything. “Each night while I sleep, I’m fed nutrients and fluids by IV,” says the married mother of one. Eight years ago, Dorner developed gastroparesis, a condition that delays or prevents food from reaching the intestines, where nutrients are absorbed. The possible cause? A hearty helping of bacteria-ridden chicken she ate at a restaurant 14 years ago.
Her story is an extreme one, but poultry can make you sick as easily today as it did to Dorner when she bit into her destructive dinner. In fact, there is a 50 percent chance that the bird you bring home from the grocery store will contain Campylobacter (known as campy for short), the bacteria that was lurking in Dorner’s undercooked entrée. The pathogen, found in a chicken’s intestinal tract, causes no harm to the animals, but it can make humans very ill, sometimes fatally, if high cooking temperatures don’t kill it. Seeing as how the average American puts away more than 42 pounds of poultry per year (equal to 222 chicken breasts), your chances of getting sick are considerable. An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year in the United States, and during the past decade, poultry has caused more cases than any other individual food group, including vegetables, fruit, seafood and beef, according to data from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a food and health watchdog group in Washington, D.C.
“Infections of campy are so common that many of us have probably already had it at least once,” says Robert Tauxe, M.D., deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases in Atlanta.
Dorner’s ordeal began in 1995, when she was a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her father took her to a restaurant to celebrate her 19th birthday, and she ordered chicken. “I remember thinking it was slightly pink, but other than that, it seemed fine,” she says. Three days later, Dorner began vomiting and experiencing stomach pains and diarrhea. Doctors at the student health center suspected a virus and sent her home with instructions to stay hydrated. But her condition worsened. “I was running a fever, couldn’t keep anything down and had bloody diarrhea,” Dorner recalls. She returned to the health center, where they took a stool sample and admitted her to the hospital. Dorner’s lab work revealed that she had contracted campy. After taking the antibiotic Cipro, she felt better, but her digestive system was never the same. In 2001, Dorner began having severe abdominal pain and couldn’t eat a meal without vomiting, the first signs of her gastroparesis. During the next five years, her condition progressed to full-blown digestive failure. “My doctors won’t ever be certain, but they believe that my campylobacter infection 14 years ago could have weakened my digestive system and set the stage for the gastroparesis,” Dorner says. “I was completely healthy until I had that meal.” "

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