Family hospitalised after suspected botulism poisoning from wild boar

By Nichola Murphy
Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

Does your Christmas menu feature wild boar? If so, you might want to rethink. Three members of the same family are on life support suffering from what doctors believe to be botulism poisoning after eating wild boar.

Waikato Hospital spokeswoman said that although the exact cause and source remains unknown, the three patients are responding to botulism antitoxin and are recovering in hospital.

“We have sent samples off to a specialist centre in Queensland for testing but it may take several weeks before we get the results. We have no evidence to believe there is any public health issue,” she told the NZ Herald.

Shibu Kochummen, 35, his wife Subi Babu, 32, and his 62-year-old mother Alekutty Daniel were found unconscious in their home by paramedics on Friday, 10 November after eating meat from a boar shot by Kochummen.

Foodborne botulism is a rare but potentially fatal condition caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxins can be deactivated by temperatures above 85°C for a minimum of five minutes. The bacteria cannot survive acidic conditions below pH4.6.

Symptoms such as vomiting, muscle weakness and paralysis usually occur within 12–36 hours, but if the toxin is particularly potent or in large quantities these can appear much sooner, as seen with the three patients who were affected within 30 minutes of eating the meat and began vomiting every 15 minutes afterwards.

After receiving the botulism antitoxin, Babu has joined her husband and mother-in-law in the acute ward, down from the high-dependency unit. All three could face up to four to six months recovery and they have the possibility of being left with disabilities as a result. So far, friend Joji Varghes reported that they had opened their eyes but could not communicate or swallow.

The couple’s two daughters, aged seven and one, did not consume the meat and were therefore unaffected, but they are suffering in the absence of their parents. Although members from the local church have been looking after the children, family have recently travelled over from India to support them.

Varghes also told the NZ Herald that Kochummen’s sister and Babu’s brother were warmly received by the children after 12 days away from family, but they were unprepared and shocked to see their relatives in such ill health.

“To see what they’ve seen — three unresponsive people — my goodness they’re shattered,” said Varghes.

Bill O’Leary, president of the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association, said he had never heard of anyone being poisoned from game meat, leaving him to question how quickly the meat was gutted and in what conditions and temperatures it was kept in before and after cooking. The Ministry of Health also believes botulism is “rare” in New Zealand, with only one case reported since 1985 prior to this incident.

A spokesperson from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) told the NZ Herald: “MPI has been notified of this incident by the Waikato District Health Board’s Population Health Services, and we are working with them to investigate.”

So with the holiday season approaching and game hot on the menu, maybe it’s best to consider skipping the boar.

To find out more information about MPI’s food safety recommendations for hunters, click here.

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