A chicken soup, even if well cooked, risked being fatal to her. The story is told by Tereza, a young sporty and dynamic woman who found herself in the space of a few days from the spell of Bali to fight in the hospital against sepsis, due to an infection that was suddenly dragging her to death. Beyond the personal dimension, this story clearly explains the risks in the kitchen and why food safety is a priority at European level.
(Almost) in perfect shape
Yoga instructor, passionate about boxing and extreme mountain hiking, Tereza is the prototype of a fit and health-conscious person. She moved from the Czech Republic to Indonesia, but in March of this year she plans to visit her parents and friends in her hometown. “About a month before my departure, I had contracted the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which wiped out my immunity,” explains the young woman, who had not suffered from cold or flu for years. About five days before the flight, preparing a chicken for a broth, she notices a cut on her nail, without paying too much attention to it. “I bought the chicken at the Bali market and made it for soup, so I washed it in the sink. This I found out after being a big mistake. Then I cut it and boiled it for 3 hours. So I didn’t ate the raw chicken, but the infection attacked my body through the fingernail. ” The wound becomes the gateway for Campylobacter, a bacterium that quickly invades her intestines.
Until arriving in the Czech Republic, the woman has no symptoms, but only perceives a sense of fatigue attributed to the long journey. From the following day the infection begins to show itself: fevers and chills, temperatures that mysteriously fluctuate from 39.5 to 34.3. Tereza assumes it’s post-covid syndrome. Only after hospitalization did her results show an intestinal virus, but health workers only gave her acetaminophen and discharged her, recommending another blood draw in the next two days. No doctor has understood that this is not a simple infection.
Danger of life
The discharge risks being fatal, given the sudden deterioration. “I was no longer able to stand, I couldn’t speak, I had terrible stomach pains and green diarrhea, so the nurse came to get my blood sample at home,” explains Tereza. “An hour later, when she got the results, they sent me an ambulance saying I was in danger of my life,” she tells her still tense as she recalls those moments. Only then do the doctors understand that it is sepsis and that the woman may have contracted the infection from handling raw chicken. After a few hours of hospitalization and further checks, she is taken to the intensive care unit. Using a tube, doctors drain one and a half liters of green infectious fluid from the stomach, which has formed over a week.
However, its elimination is not enough. “After a few days, a nurse told me that the antibiotics had stopped working and the inflammatory values had risen again. There was another source of infection in my body: my heart was starting to stop working and I had water in the lungs, “says Tereza, shaking her head as she thinks back to those moments. The abdomen and intestines were also filled with infectious fluid, which had caused further inflammation in the peritoneum, a lining of the abdominal cavity and part of the pelvic cavity that also covers most of the bowels. Only then does a doctor decide to operate on her.
Although the chances of survival are stuck at 10%, the operation is carried out urgently. Tereza makes it. After a period in intensive care she is out of danger, but severely exhausted. “I left the hospital like a skeleton, my father had to carry me up the stairs.” Even for those who have been saved, sepsis has long-lasting effects, both on the body and on the mind. “For me it was a change in taste, short-term memory problems, cascading hair, nightmares, panic over the possibility of another infection, appetite problems, mood swings and fatigue,” he explains. Tereza. Doctors weren’t quite sure how to help her in this second phase, so she sought support from other people who suffered from the same problems, finding support from England to Spain to Canada, all of whom survived a septic shock. “I contacted them and they helped me a lot, giving me advice on recovery and post-sepsis syndrome. Thanks to them I got in touch with the Global Sepsis Alliance (Global Alliance Against Sepsis) “she tells me after her speech in Brussels, where the organization invited her at the end of September to testify about her history and where we met. hospitals, also connecting survivors to support those most severely affected by the disease.
Contacting her two months after our meeting, Tereza explains to me that the physical recovery continues, thanks to long walks in nature and free body exercises commensurate with her strength, but the psychological effects persist. “I still can’t do my job, I have nocturnal troubles, poor concentration, memory problems”. Added to this is the fear of eating out and going to places where there are many people. She is starting a journey with a (new) psychotherapist, hoping he will be able to help her cope with the post-traumatic stress syndrome she suffers from. He is keen to tell me that he has created a new Instagram profile “Less Sepsis More Burpees” (Less Sepsis More Workouts), where I post information sheets on the disease, personal photos and useful tips on how to keep fit, to spread greater awareness about sepsis and how to face the recovery phase.
What is sepsis
As the Global Sepsis Alliance explains, sepsis occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. Basically it is our own body to “hit us” to defend itself from an infection, which can have the most disparate origins. It can lead to shock, failure in various organs, loss of fingers and limbs and even death. This happens if it is not recognized early and treated promptly. Most infectious diseases worldwide, including viral infections and Covid, can degenerate to the last stage into sepsis. Among these is listeria, which has been widely discussed in the last period after the three deaths and the 71 people hospitalized following the consumption of uncooked sausages. Children under one year of age, those over 60, those suffering from chronic diseases or diabetes, and people with weakened immune systems in general are at particular risk. As in the case of Tereza, who despite being healthy and in perfect physical shape, she had been struck by covid-19 a few weeks before cooking the chicken. Symptoms may be chills and fever, wheezing and shortness of breath, feeling of weakness and slurred speech, inability to urinate all day. For this reason it is essential to prevent and intervene quickly. In the hospital, treatment with antibiotics, oxygen and intravenous fluids is required.
How to avoid food infections
As for the prevention of infections that can be contracted in the kitchen, we must pay attention to several simple but essential precautions. Vegetables must be washed carefully before consuming them, even those in bags. Raw meats, one of the main vectors of infections, must be prepared separately from vegetables and other cooked foods, for example by cutting them with a knife and a different cutting board. Better still to have specific tools used only for raw meats, whether they are fish, beef or chicken. It is preferable to consume pasteurized dairy products (milk and cheese). Hands and kitchen utensils must be washed thoroughly after handling raw food. The same process applies to the sink or other shelves with which the meats have been in contact. Regardless of our habits, it is necessary to check on the packaging whether certain foods should be consumed cooked. Perishable foods must be consumed quickly.
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Risking your life to cook a chicken: how to avoid sepsis and other diseases in the kitchen
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