firefighter.bmpThe Orange County Health Department is investigating the possibility that a number of Silver Lake Fire Department volunteer firefighters contracted food poisoning during a banquet they attended over the weekend.

About 120 people were at the catering hall where the meal was held on Saturday night and a number of them went to the doctor at the beginning of the week with symptoms of food poisoning, a senior county health department official told

The investigation is continuing with no definitive conclusions yet.  One possibility is norovirus whenever you epidemiologists see the rapid spread of mass illness at a social gathering.  Then again firefighters are pretty tough, and an incident that makes many of them go to the hospital could be something potentially worse.  Other possibilities: Salmonella, campylobacter, or shigella

Any one of these bugs can cause severe acute gastrointestinal symptoms, or worse.  Any of them can cause life-altering medical problems.  Barb Pruitt is a case in point.  Barb was infected by Salmonella typhimurium in an 2009 outbreak ultimately linked to lettuce from Salinas valley California. Barb’s illness very quickly became life-threatening because the bacteria caused the tissues in her gastrointestinal tract to die, leading to a perforation of her small intestine that allowed the bacteria to escape into her bloodstream. She ultimately had to be life-flighted to a major medical center, where she underwent emergency surgery to remove approximately four feet of her small intestine. She has spent over a month in the hospital, and has endured constant, severe gastrointesinal problems ever since as a result of her inability to properly digest foods due to the loss of her small intestine. Barb’s problems, including multiple days a week where she suffers 15-20 bouts of diarrhea, are permanent.