Local Death May Be Due To Salmonella Outbreak

Source of Article:  http://www.tricities.com/tri/news/local/article/local_death_may_be_due_to_salmonella_outbreak/19632/

By Michael Owens
Reporter / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: January 31, 2009

KINGSPORT, Tenn. – A Tri-Cities woman who died in a Weber City, Va., nursing home Nov. 24 might have fallen victim to the deadly salmonella typhimurium outbreak linked to tainted peanut butter products.

The Virginia Department of Health refuses to confirm her death as part of the national outbreak that has killed eight people, stating only that Southwest Virginia had a single salmonella-related fatality in November. But state health officials in Tennessee, where the woman’s illness was diagnosed, have said they were involved in a case in which a patient died and that the death was recorded as a Virginia resident.

Hester C. Fields, 78, of Kingsport, died at the Brian Health & Rehab Center in Weber City after suffering a high fever and diarrhea for nearly a week, according to medical reports provided to the Herald Courier.

Fields’ daughter, Gloria “Jeannie” Fields, believes her mother is a victim of the national crisis.

The mother and daughter had lived together. But, when Jeannie Fields needed multiple eye surgeries late last year, she thought her mother could best be cared for in a nursing home. The mother was supposed to reside at the short-term, rehabilitation-based nursing home for a month, returning home when the daughter fully recovered.

“[Mom] was doing her therapy, she was walking real good, and all of the sudden she was going downhill,” Jeannie Fields said.

Doctors initially suspected Hester Fields suffered from pneumonia, medical records indicate. Jeannie Fields said nursing home staff also warned that her mother’s illness might be part of a bug spreading through the nursing home.

“They asked me to leave the nursing home because mother had a stomach virus,” Jeannie Fields said. “They said they had five patients that [were sick] with it.”

Nursing home Administrator Vickie Cox refused to comment Friday.

On Nov. 23, Hester Fields was rushed to Indian Path Medical Center in Kingsport, after her fever spiked to 105 degrees and following a week of diarrhea and vomiting, the medical report states.

While at the hospital, blood tests were taken. Hester Fields was returned to the nursing home that same day and died a day later.

“These guys didn’t even think it was salmonella,” said Bristol, Tenn.,-based lawyer Parke Morris, who is representing Jeannie Fields.

“It didn’t even occur to them,” Morris said.

Indian Path Medical Center spokesman James Watson said he could not comment about a specific patient’s case, nor could he speculate about a doctor’s decision to send a patient home.

Abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever are the main symptoms of salmonella poisoning, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Salmonella typhimurium is most toxic with infants, the elderly and people with impaired immune systems.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 501 people have fallen ill to the salmonella outbreak – 20 in Virginia and 11 in Tennessee. The federal agency said two people have died in Virginia. No deaths have been reported in Tennessee.

On Nov. 26, two days after Hester Fields died, culture tests revealed that salmonella had tainted her blood. Four days later, the Virginia Department of Health telephoned her daughter with the news that salmonella had been found. And on Jan. 9, the cultures from Field’s blood revealed that the salmonella was from the deadly typhimurium strain, medical records indicate.

Officials have not confirmed whether the salmonella that killed Fields is the same strain as in the peanut butter case.

Her death posed a statistical dilemma for doctors when it came to listing the location of her case, said Dr. Gary Mayes, head of the Sullivan County (Tenn.) Regional Health Department. The death occurred in Virginia, but the salmonella diagnosis was made across the state line in a Tennessee hospital.

“I remember the case ... and we had to figure out whether it counted in Tennessee or in Virginia,” Mayes said. “We decided to count it in Virginia.”  The FDA reports tracing the salmonella typhimurium strain responsible for the nationwide outbreaks to peanut butter and peanut butter paste manufactured by the Lynchburg, Va., -based Peanut Corporation of America. According to a Washington Post report, the FDA now claims the company knowingly shipped contaminated products from its Blakely, Ga., plant on 12 different occasions in 2007 and 2008. On Friday, The Associated Press reported a government decision to open a criminal investigation into the Georgia facility.

Jeanie Fields suspects that her mother contracted salmonella from the peanut butter crackers – also called nabs – she said the nursing home staff provided to patients.

“I went to a machine once, and a nurse said you don’t have to buy them, we give them to [patients],” Jeannie Fields said.

My mother “loved peanut butter nabs,” the daughter said.



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