Uganda: Bad canned food kills student

Wednesday, 12th November, 2008


Source of Article:



By Conan Businge

THE Seeta High School student who died recently was not poisoned, but died of botulism, medical reports have revealed.

The Director General of health services, Dr. Sam Zaramba, yesterday said Sarah Akoo, a Senior Five student, died of botulism, according to reports from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the health ministry.

Botulism is a rare disease caused by consumption of toxic canned foodstuffs.

On the morning of Monday, October 20, Akoo was taken to the school’s sickbay, with pain in the throat and breathing complications. Her parents were called in at 1:00pm after the school nurse said she could not manage her condition.

She was taken to International Hospital Kampala, where she died five days later.

Akoo’s friend, Rachel Atumanyise, who had a day before complained of vision problems, is admitted at Mulago Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Another student, Edith Namuwaya, who was a fortnight ago admitted alongside Atumanyise, has since been discharged.

“When the student died, we took samples from all the girls’ property that we could get and sent them to CDC-Atlanta, for investigations. We also did a post-mortem of the student,” Zaramba said.

He said results from the samples are expected in the next two weeks. “We tried to trace all that they had eaten and used. We were told that they had had a visitation day, before they got sick!”

Zaramba said it was discovered that this was food-borne botulism. “We have advised the school to limit the amount of food that is brought for students on visitation days.”

This is the second case of botulism outbreak in Uganda, Zaramba said. The first one was in the 1970s.

The acting commissioner for community services, Dr. Dawson Mbulamberi, said: “The students should not be alarmed, because the disease is not infectious.”

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by a bacterium, according to the Centre for Disease control and Prevention.

Mbulamberi added: “People should always seek medical advice before jumping to conclusions on their health.”

The Seeta High headteacher at the Mbalala campus, Lydia Kagoya, said: “The Ministry of Health has done everything possible to get to the bottom of the problem.”

She said on Tuesday that the school had withdrawn all tinned foods from the students.

There are three main kinds of botulism:
- Food-borne botulism, caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin.
- Wound botulism, caused by a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum.
- Infant botulism, caused by consuming the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release toxins.
All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Food-borne botulism can be especially dangerous because many people can be poisoned by eating contaminated food.

How common is botulinum?
This is the second case of botulism in the country. In America, an average  Of these, approximately 15% are food-borne,of 145 cases is reported each year. 65% infant botulism and 20% are wound bolulism.

What are the symptoms of botulism?
- double vision,
- blurred vision,
- drooping eyelids,
- slurred speech,
- difficulty swallowing,
- dry mouth,
- muscle weakness.
Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, and are constipated.


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