Food Safety News | Winter 2020

Early Detection of Foodborne Illness:

How You Can Take Immediate Action to Prevent Serious Health Consequences

When a foodborne illness strikes, early detection is critical. It can often mean the difference between life and death.

Far too often, though, early detection with proper testing doesn’t happen. Patients presenting with classic symptoms of foodborne illness at doctors’ offices, hospitals, and urgent care facilities are told to simply “wait it out.”

And, tragically, lives are lost.

That awful scenario is exactly what happened to an adorable two-year-old girl named Brooke.

 

Brooke’s Story

For Elisa, Brooke’s mother, her sweet little girl was the light of her life. Elisa and Brooke were a closely bonded pair. They would spend countless afternoons laughing and making up silly songs together. Brooke was so funny. She had an incredible sense of humor and loved to make people laugh. She walked with a dance in her step and liked smelling flowers. She loved the swimming pool and splashing her grandpa.

And Brooke was beautiful.

She had big blue eyes, hair that bounced when she walked, and a toothy smile. When Brooke walked in a room, everyone noticed her. She had such presence.

For two and a half years, Elisa knew her life was perfect. She was so proud to be Brooke’s mother. And, during those perfect years, Elisa looked forward to many more perfect moments with the daughter she cherished so much. There would be the day Elisa would walk Brooke into her first day at school. The day Elisa would take pictures of Brooke with her prom date. And the day Elisa would beam with pride as she walked down the aisle with Brooke at her wedding.

But, on June 3, 2000, a mother’s life was shattered.

On that day, Brooke’s short life abruptly ended due to E. coli O157:H7 poisoning after being misdiagnosed for five days straight in three different hospitals.

All those dreams Elisa had for Brooke were gone. The emotional pain that took root in Elisa’s very soul was gut-wrenching.

And what made this devastating event even worse?

A simple test could have prevented Brooke’s death.

During those three harrowing hospital visits, many doctors failed to diagnose the E. coli poisoning despite Brooke presenting with many typical symptoms. Each hospital released her and pointed to Elisa “overreacting.” Doctors assured Elisa that her daughter would be just fine.

But Elisa had strong concerns—call it motherly instinct—that tainted meat could be the cause.

A few days earlier on Memorial Day, Elisa had taken Brooke to a national fast food chain where Brooke ate a hamburger. Elisa would later find out that, on that busy holiday, one of the cooks decided to speed things along and use a broken burner that hadn’t been operating properly for five years. That fateful decision resulted in an undercooked hamburger being served to Brooke, and later testing, proved positive for the deadly strain of E. coli O157:H7 that ravaged Brooke’s little body.

What To Do If This Happens to You

If you experience common symptoms of foodborne illness such as:

  • Diarrhea or vomiting lasting one to seven days
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Joint/back aches
  • Fatigue

Get treated immediately at your doctor’s office, urgent care facility, or hospital and request to be tested right away for possible contamination by a foodborne pathogen.

This involves providing a stool or blood sample and having a simple test done to determine whether or not you should be treated for food poisoning.

Once again, the emphasis here is on EARLY DETECTION.

And this is especially important for children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system.

No matter what a medical professional tells you, you have the right to get tested IMMEDIATELY so don’t accept “no” for an answer. Too often people are told to go home and wait a day or two. Sadly, we know of so many people who now no longer have their children or loved ones because that time was CRITICAL for saving lives.

 

We Want to Hear From You

Early detection of foodborne illness is a big focus for Stop Foodborne Illness. And, in an effort to explore this life-saving topic further, we’re looking to interview people who:

  • Experienced symptoms of a foodborne illness, sought treatment by a medical professional, were ultimately diagnosed with a foodborne illness, but were not tested right away to get an early diagnosis/treatment.
  • Are interested in sharing their thoughts/ideas and helping us do research on early detection.

 

If you’d like to partner with us on this work, please contact Stanley Rutledge, Community Coordinator, at srutledge@stopfoodborneillness.org.

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