By: James Peacock

On August 5, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services responded to apparent cases of food poisoning at the Zilker Clubhouse in Austin, Texas. The Zilker Clubhouse is a place for special events and typically can host as many as 125 people. At this point there is no reporting on what sort of event was being held at the time of the call. Zilker Clubhouse, though, is a popular location to host weddings, and Facebook comments tend to point towards a wedding taking place on the day of the outbreak. EMS responded to the call around midnight, and would eventually need to have three ambulances show up. There were as many as 12 cases of illness in total at the event. Seven people needed to be taken to the hospital. Five were transported from the location with two others being transported from an offsite location. While the offsite location was neither the Zilker Clubhouse nor disclosed, EMS has said that the two incidents are related. None of the illnesses are expected to be life-threatening. Information about the caterer for the event, the specific event, a confirmed number of illnesses, and the condition of those sickened is all unknown. More information will become available as time goes on.

Potential Pathogens

Vibrio parahaemolyticus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are about 80,000 cases of Vibrio poisoning each year. The vast majority of these cases, about 19 out of 20, are not reported. Around 14 percent of Vibrio cases are not foodborne in origin.  Vibrio infections cause around 500 hospitalizations and 100 deaths per year. The CDC estimates that about 100 million bacterial cells are required to cause a case of foodborne illness. The incubation period for Vibrio is between 4 and 90 hours after exposure. The average incubation time for a Vibrio infection is 17 hours. When a Vibrio infection presents symptoms, potentially bloody diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramping, fever, and vomiting are all commonly seen. A case of Vibrio poisoning will typically last between 2 and 6 days and is fairly self-limiting. Those with diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, AIDS, or compromised immune systems are at an increased risk of contracting a serious case of Vibrio poisoning. People with those risk factors are also more susceptible to developing septicemia, a potential complication. This blood infection can be very serious and is fatal between 20 and 30 percent of the time.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, causing almost a million cases of illness per year. The illness can set in between 6 and 24 hours after exposure. When C. perfringens causes illness, symptoms including cramps and diarrhea will usually appear. C. perfringens will not typically cause fever or vomiting, and the illness is not transmitted from person to person. A C. perfringens infection will usually last for about 24 hours, although more serious cases can last up to two weeks. These infections are hardly ever fatal. There are an estimated 26 deaths associated with C. perfringens infections each year. Children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems are at an increased risk of developing a serious infection. There are several complications that can be caused by a C. perfringens infection. The most common of these is diarrhea, which can cause dehydration if fluids are not properly replaced. More severe forms of the infection can cause necrosis, peritonitis, and septicemia. Perfringens outbreaks are usually caused by meats and poultry that have not been cooked at a proper temperature or were not properly maintained at the set holding temperatures that prevent contamination. Meat containing products like gravies and stews, other meats, and Mexican foods are all also potential causes for a C. perfringens infection. C. perfringens infections are common in cafeterias, catered events, and other places where a large amount of food is prepared several hours prior to being served.

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is also known to cause illness in such a short timeframe. With an incubation period of only 1 hour in some cases. Staphylococcal food poisoning causes symptoms including sudden, severe nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, and potentially a fever. These infections will tend to end after a couple of days. This pathogen also appears to be transmitted via improperly refrigerated meats, potato and egg salads, and cream pastries. Staphylococcus aureus infections are somewhat common in catered foods, which were likely provided at the event on August 5.

Salmonella

Salmonella poisoning is one of the most common causes of gastrointestinal illness in America, causing about 1.2 million cases of illness per year. A Salmonella infection usually produces symptoms between 12 and 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning usually include vomiting, abdominal cramping, fever, and nausea. Typically, an infection will go away on its own within a week, although Salmonella infections may worsen. Those with certain risk factors, including children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems may be at an increased risk of developing a serious case of Salmonella poisoning.

Sources:

http://kxan.com/2017/08/06/patients-transported-after-mass-food-poisoning-reported-at-zilker-clubhouse/