WALNUT GROVE (CBS13) – Sacramento County Public Health officials issued a health warning on Sunday about a botulism outbreak that sent five people to the hospital. All five are in serious condition linked to the rare and potentially fatal type of food poisoning.

Officials are still investigating the exact cause of the outbreak, but they say customers who bought prepared foods from Valley Oak Food and Fuel in Walnut Grove, such as pre-packed sandwiches, dairy products and other snacks, is what caused people to started getting sick.

A red warning sign from the county is posted on the door to the store to warn customers. Inside, part of the store is roped off to keep customers away from buying food items.

“I was actually going there almost every day for the last few weeks,” said Dennis Higgs, a young Walnut Grove resident.

But like many in this small town, Higgs took his business a block away not wanting to risk his health by buying food from Valley Oak Food and Fuel. “I came over here it. Looked like a bad situation over there,” said Higgs.

“Botulism is a very serious disease. We are calling it an outbreak because botulism is rare,” explained Dr. Oliva Kasirye, a public health officer.

Dr. Kasirye says there are usually just a few cases of botulism reported in Sacramento County each year.

So, five people getting sick within a two-week period makes this outbreak a “serious concern,” said Dr. Kasirye, especially since, if left untreated, botulism can be fatal.

“The thing that we are concerned about is if it impacts the muscles that control your breathing … someone can go into respiratory arrest. So, it’s really important for someone to seek care immediately,” she said.

The symptoms include blurry vision, slurred speech, and muscle weakness. Health officials warn anyone who may have bought food from Valley Oak Food and Fuel and who are showing signs of getting sick,  should to call their doctor immediately.

Yet despite the warning and the outbreak, some locals consider this to be just an isolated incident and aren’t faulting the owners for any wrong doing.

“They didn’t try to harm anybody. If anything happened over there, I do believe it’s an accident,” said one of Oak Valley’s regular customers.

“I’d go there again after everybody else starts going there. I don’t want to be a guinea pig and get sick,” said long-time Pat Lewis, with a laugh.

Part of the health department’s ongoing investigation will be to see how the gas station handles its food. But it’s also looking into the food distributors to see if there is something happening on their end.

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