Matt Jackson was riding an electric bike in Bordeaux wine country when he started feeling strange. Nine days later, he is on a breathing machine in a French intensive care unit, unable to open his eyes, communicating only through notes on a whiteboard – and has been infected. botulism,
Jackson was the first of a dozen people who ate preserved sardines in a Bordeaux wine bar last week and were hospitalized with a rare and potentially fatal disease, according to French authorities.
A 32-year-old woman from the Paris area has died.
Authorities issued an appeal to search for other people in France and beyond who may have eaten the suspect sardines and may have been at risk. Those falling ill include visitors from the United States, Ireland, Canada, Germany and Spain, according to regional health authority ARS.
Jackson and his partner Christy Benner, on vacation from Hermosa Beach, California, stopped at Tchin Tchin Wine Bar on September 4, and sampled wines with small plates of sardines and charcuterie.
The next morning, they went on a wine tasting trip to nearby Saint-Emilion. “We were heading out to the vineyards on the e-bikes and around 10 a.m. Matt said he wasn’t feeling very well,” he said.
At first she thought Jackson was dehydrated, or having a seizure.
“His abilities were rapidly diminishing,” he told The Associated Press from Bordeaux on Thursday. As he said, “It was very difficult to understand. And his mouth was incredibly dry, to the point where he couldn’t even swallow water.”
After staying with her in the hospital for two days, he started feeling drained and having trouble swallowing. She alerted friends and family to seek help, and Jackson’s sister Hillary boarded a plane from New York.
Benner suspected botulism but doctors were skeptical at first. It took days to confirm the link to the sardines and get them both access to antitoxin for a disease that French hospitals rarely deal with. In France only 10 to 20 cases of botulism are reported nationwide each year.
food borne botulism Botulinum toxin is a rare disease caused by eating foods contaminated with botulinum toxin and can cause paralysis, difficulty breathing, and sometimes death. Household foods that have been improperly canned, preserved, or fermented are common sources.
According to an ARS official, at least 12 people who ate preserved food between September 4 and September 10 have been hospitalized. Some have been released but most remain in intensive care or in critical condition, the official said.
All displayed symptoms are typical of botulism, which may include severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking, and neurological problems.
The family is disappointed by the slow initial response, but say the overall reception has been positive.
“People are welcoming us with open arms and trying to help,” Hillary Jackson said. “It’s just that wine bar.”
The restaurant was closed pending further investigation. The Regional Agency for Consumer Protection inspected and confiscated all of its preserved food for analysis. Restaurant staff could not be reached for comment.
By Thursday, Benner was still tired and having trouble swallowing. She said Matt “can’t open his eyes and he’s on a ventilator… He’s just not like him.”
Hillary Jackson said French doctors met with EU counterparts earlier this week to discuss response times to botulism.
“So hopefully if nothing else comes of it, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s there, and the key to that is to treat it quickly.”