On a lazy, late September evening, we gathered together for a communal evening of food and talk. Little knowing what we were about to face 4 days later. Since this was a fairly large group, and our host was late, food preparation was much more rushed than is normal. The coals were lit and the first batch of chickens were cooking, while the host attended to the other dishes. There was one large metal pan filled with maybe 40 chicken legs and thighs, sitting on the shelf, waiting for their turn on the grill.
Because he was late, cook was checking the chickens to insure they were thoroughly done. Dinner was delicious, and as the evening wore down, my son and I volunteered to help clean up. I recall washing the pans the chickens were in, and wiping down the equipment before leaving. We experienced no ill effects over the next few days. The only unusual behaviour was mine. I began crying as if my heart were broken over the smallest things. Then on Sunday, a full 4 days later it began. My son told me he was having diarrhea so bad he was soiling himself. My other son told me he was feverish with chills. As I stood up to go check on them, diarrhea flooded out of me all over the floor. No warning, no cramping, nothing. All of us had bloody, mucus filled stools. After making sure everything was disinfected, and laundry started, I sat down, and it happened again.
The next 3 days were a nightmare of diarrhea, fever, and in my case, severe dehydration. Even water, sip by sip, went tearing through me. After checking Mayo Clinic online, I went to Sutter General with my oldest son. Justin was too sore to go with us. After 11 hours of treatment and testing, the doctor told me he could not safely begin treatment until the tests came back, identifying what bacterium this was. He initially thought he was dealing with e coli 0157 H7 , and said he could not prescribe an antibiotic if it came back positive for this strain. The risk of developing hemolytic urea syndrome in people suffering with this strain is too great, and antibiotics rarely help in any case.
The next night I returned for more IV’s. After 6 hours, the doctor told me the strain beginning to grow was campylobacter jejuni, a serious illness. I asked him where we could have been infected, and he told me the primary culprit is raw chicken. After recounting our Wedenesday evening meal, he told me it was highly probable this is where we contracted it. This is truly a terrible illness. We were having to change our adult diapers as often as every 10 minutes. And would have to sit on the porcelain throne for very long periods of time, as the fluids poured out of us. This went on for two weeks, before it began easing up. But we were left feeling weak as kittens and very tired.
I went online and read up on campylobacter. What I found was disturbing. Campylobacter is found on 47% of chicken breasts sold in the U.S. and in poultry processing plants, cross contamination produces even higher rates of campylobacter into the market population. While reductions have been made in this area, there is still too high a percentage of poultry infected with campylobacter to be acceptable. It survives refrigeration and even freezing. Whole chickens tested at 93.8% positive, while chicken parts were at 53.6%, according to a 2002 study by Kenaka (University of Hawaii)
Here are some steps to take to avoid contracting this serious food borne illness:
Wash your hands before handling raw chicken.
Use heavy latex or rubber gloves while preparing the poultry.
Cover and refrigerate raw chicken until ready to cook.
Thoroughly wash and rinse any containers in very hot soapy water.
Wipe down your counters, sink and exposed areas with a liquid solution of 2 parts bleach to 6 parts water. Keep the areas wet for 25 minutes. Rinse well with water and dry with paper towels.
Since studies have shown, chicken skin contains higher levels of campylobacter, remove the skin, and run it through your garbage disposer.
Never serve chicken that has any pink or red showing.
Many people contract campylobacter never experience much more than a fleeting cramp or slight diarrhea. But, if you begin experiencing the symptoms we had:
Severe bloody diarrhea
Contact your doctor or local ER for diagnosis and treatment. Especially if you are severely immunosuppressed, or suffer from chronic illness, or have very young children who are also having the same symptoms. Bottom line is practicing good food safety habits. If you aren’t doing the cooking, and have ANY doubts, don’t eat it! We learned a very hard lesson, one none of us are likely to forget.