DEADLY NOODLES: College student's fingers, legs amputated in severe food poisoning case
A report in the New England Journal of Medicine noted how a student had to have his fingers and limbs amputated after consuming some leftover food that a housemate had left in the fridge.
The student, identified only as 'JC', ate the chicken and noodle dish that had been packaged from a restaurant the previous night and started to feel ill shortly after. Doctors noted that he had a severely high temperature, a pulse of 166 beats per minute, and had to be sedated. The patient reportedly had no known allergies and had received all his childhood vaccinations. According to the journal, he smoked two packs of cigarettes each week and marijuana on a daily basis but wasn't big on alcohol. However, he became so ill that he had to be airlifted to the intensive care unit of another hospital for further treatment.
“The patient had been well until 20 hours before this admission, when diffuse abdominal pain and nausea developed after he ate rice, chicken, and lo mein leftovers from a restaurant meal," the report stated. “Five hours before this admission, purplish discoloration [sic] of the skin developed, and a friend took the patient to the emergency department of another hospital for evaluation.”
The story was explained in detail in a YouTube video by Dr. Bernard Hsu, a licensed toxicologist. Hsu said that the severe symptoms were likely the result of an aggressive bacterial infection, which caused his kidneys to fail and triggered blood clots within 24 hours of consuming the food. Blood test reports from the previous hospital showed that he had a bacteria in his blood called Neisseria meningitidis — often referred to as meningococcus — that is known to cause meningitis.
Hsu explained how the patient's immune system had started responding to the pathogen. “It’s kind of like getting a cut on your skin – the bleeding stops eventually because of a blood clot, then the area around the cut becomes swollen and warm," the doctor said. “It is swollen because the blood vessels dilate so that more blood vessels can get to the area and the swelling is partly due to the fact that there is increased fluid and the warmth is the inflammation. But, when bacteria are present in the blood, the entire body’s blood vessels dilate, dropping then blood pressure, preventing oxygen from getting into the organs.” He continued, "Little clots [start to] form everywhere, as they get lodged into small blood vessels blocking blood flow. As his hands and feet become cold, they are starved of oxygen.”
A major problem with such an infection is that the tissue that is starved of blood starts to decay and turn necrotic. The condition is called Purpura fulminans. And while the student did stabilize at some point, the tissue on his fingers and legs down to his feet developed gangrene. Doctors had no choice but to amputate parts of all ten digits, coupled with bilateral below-knee amputations. According to the report, the bacteria in the food is known to spread through saliva. It emerged that JC's roommate had vomited after eating some of the meal the previous night, and the leftovers were unwittingly eaten by JC the next day.
Doctors pulled up JC's medical history and found that while he had received his first meningococcal vaccine before middle school, he hadn't taken the booster shot recommended four years later when he was 16. Dr. Hsu described the incident as "a freak accident" and said "we'll never know" what caused the food to have bacteria in it. The student reportedly became conscious nearly a month later and his condition has since improved. Doctors said that he has had a "relatively good recovery" despite the amputations.