Lavinia Kelly stopped by a gas station in Walnut Grove, California for a quick snack.
She purchased some Doritos from the Valley Oak Food and Fuel, then added some nacho cheese from a dispenser in the deli area. Within hours, she was feeling sick.
The next day, she had double vision. She went to the hospital, but was sent home; later that night, she became extremely ill, prompting a visit to the emergency room. Now, she’s struggling to recover after three weeks of intensive care.
Kelly was suffering from botulism, which she contracted from the cheese sauce.
Nine other people came down with the illness, according to state officials, who urged anyone who purchased prepared food from the gas station to seek medical treatment. State officials revoked the store’s license to sell prepared foods during their investigation.
Botulism is a toxin, and proper food preparation essentially prevents it from developing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that outbreaks are extremely rare, and cases are rarely fatal. Still, it’s a serious disease that can cause paralysis.
Early signs of botulism include difficulty swallowing and speaking, dry mouth, and facial weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can be accompanied by blurred vision and drooping eyelids.
Eventually, the disease progresses, causing nausea, difficulty breathing, and paralysis.
Most patients report feelings of extreme fatigue. However, botulism can be difficult to diagnose due to its rarity, and in some instances, patients are sent home without effective treatments—as was the case with Lavinia kelly.
Botulism is caused by a toxin created by a bacteria, and heating food to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five minutes kills the toxin. As such, food preparers can prevent contamination by following appropriate food handling guidelines.
The bacterium that causes botulism requires low oxygen environments, so the toxin is sometimes found in improperly packaged foods, especially canned foods that have been dented or pierced. Symptoms start to appear within 12-36 hours and progress rapidly.
Doctors can treat botulism cases with antitoxins. Patients also receive supportive care, which allows them to recover safely. Paralysis caused by botulism can last anywhere from two to eight
Kelly’s family has pursued litigation against the gas station that sold the infected cheese.
“Only human mistakes create the environment for botulinum toxin to form,” the family’s attorney, Bruce Clark, said to the Sacramento Bee.
“We will use the lawsuit to learn more about the source of the food product that was contaminated. The source of the food product may be unrelated to the gas station; it could be a commercially made, pre-packaged item.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help support Lavinia. While she had medical insurance, she will be unable to work for the foreseeable future, so she’ll use any money she collects to cover expenses while she focuses on her recovery. To find out more or to donate, visit the page here.