A lawsuit stemming from a 2013 Salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken has been filed on behalf of a toddler whose Salmonella infection created a massive brain abscess. To save his life, surgeons cut open his skull to remove the growing collection of infectious pus compressing his brain tissue.
The fluid removed from the abscess matched one of the seven uncommon and antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella associated with the outbreak, according to the complaint filed by attorneys Fred Pritzker and Brendan Flaherty. The suit was filed December 21, 2015 in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. Case number 2:15-cv-02587-DLR.
The child’s story was featured on a Frontline investigation called The Trouble with Chicken, which traced the arc of Foster Farms’ decade-long Salmonella problem, spotlighted the USDA’s lack of enforcement ability and asked the question: who is accountable when food makes people sick? The suit filed yesterday is an answer to that question.
From October 2013 to July 2014, Salmonella in Foster Farms chicken sickened 634 people in 29 states. Throughout almost the entire outbreak, the company refused to issue a recall. It wasn’t until July 12, 2014 – two weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared an end to the outbreak, that Foster Farms issued a limited recall. Too late for more than 600 people who had become ill, including the young child whose family filed the suit yesterday.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include fever, nausea, vomiting, chills. and diarrhea that is sometimes bloody. Infections that travel from the GI tract to the bloodstream can cause serious, life-threatening complications including heart problems, abscesses and meningitis.
There were seven strains of Salmonella associated with the Foster Farms outbreak. All of them were resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics cause infections that are more severe and have higher rates of complications, according to public health organizations. They also increase the number of hospitalizations and the length of hospital stays. The hospitalization rate for the Foster Farms outbreak was twice the normal rate, according to the CDC.
According to the complaint, the family regularly ate Foster Farms chicken before the child, who is now 3, became ill. With symptoms of fever, chills, nasal congestion, and diarrhea, he was taken to the doctor on October 3, 2013. His mother told the doctor that relatives of the boy had been diagnosed with Salmonella. He was sent away and returned on three more occasions before being admitted to the hospital on October 23, 2013.
The next day, his condition worsened and he developed a facial droop. A CT scan showed a large accumulation of fluid was compressing and displacing his brain. Immediate surgery was needed to save his life.
Doctors determined that bacterial meningitis and the abscess putting pressure on the young child’s brain were caused by a Salmonella infection. Fluid removed from the abscess showed the Salmonella was a match to one of the strains associated with the outbreak. Weeks of difficult recovery followed.
Six post-operative MRIs of the child’s brain have all been abnormal, according to the complaint. The most recent one showed evidence of brain volume loss.