WALNUT GROVE (CBS13) — Outside, Valley Oak Food and Fuel in Walnut Grove is open for business. But inside, health officials have stopped the sale of food items and roped off a part of the store, after the gas station was linked to last week’s botulism outbreak – a rare and sometimes fatal form of food poisoning.
Health inspectors have linked the case to a nacho cheese sauce traced back to the mom-and-pop gas station.
State and county health officials have confirmed nine people have been hospitalized, including possibly a 16-year-old. Five cases were first reported on May 5. This week four more people have become sick. And now, a tenth person is being tested after showing similar symptoms related to the rare and potentially fatal illness.
As the number of those who become sick continues to grow, so too does the concern for those who live in this small town.
“It’s tough on a small town,” said one local woman, who did not want to give her name. “It’s tough because we know some of the youth who were affected by it, so our hearts are heavy.”
”From the preliminary testing of the cheese, it was positive for botulism,” said Dr. Oliva Kasirye, a health inspector with the Sacramento County Public Health Department, who has been part of the on-going investigation.
Now that the source of the outbreak has been determined, the investigation will turn to the cause. Did the gas station mishandle the food items? Or, are the manufacturers or distributors at fault?
But a bigger concern may be to keep more people from getting sick, as all nine patients hospitalized are in serious condition.
According to the Center for Disease Control, botulism is caused by a toxin produced by bacteria. Symptoms include blurry vision, slurred speech, muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing.
“But if there are any muscles that have been paralyzed from the toxin, it’s not reversed by the anti-toxin. That’s a process that could take time and that’s why the recovery is very slow,” explained Dr. Kasirye.
And even with the anti-toxin treatment, there is no guarantee patients will fully recover.
Another concern is the gas station is on a busy road that’s not just used by locals, but many people who come out fishing or who pass-by as they travel through the state. The gas station is a frequent stop. So, health officials are not ruling out the possibility that there still may be more cases reported.
Many in the small town are not faulting the gas station owners. Many say they will wait for the state’s complete report and hope that it is completed soon.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed by the family of one the patients against the gas station and others, claiming neglect.