Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Raw Milk, Campylobacter jejuni, President Roosevelt and Guillain-Barré Syndrome РSix Degrees of Separation?

I spent part of the day working on the sad case of a Crescent City, California woman, Mrs. Tardiff, who contracted Campylobacter jejuni from consuming raw milk purchased at Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms.  The farms stopped the sale of raw milk.  The Del Norte County Department of Public Health eventually linked at least 16 people who contracted Campylobacter jejuni.  Mrs. Tardiff suffered Guillain-Barré (ghee-yan bah-ray) syndrome (GBS) and remained in the hospital in intensive care, partially paralyzed (actually on a ventilator), for several months.  She is still partially paralyzed and is now undergoing intensive rehabilitation.

GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes the cranial nerves (except the optic [eye] nerve), the spinal nerves, and the autonomic nervous system that governs involuntary actions.  The central nervous system is the spinal cord and brain. GBS often occurs a few days or weeks after a person has had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral or bacterial infection; in fact, two-thirds of affected individuals have had a preceding infection.  Campylobacter jejuni, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae are commonly identified antecedent pathogens.

Interestingly, a friend suggested an article that GBS might well have been the cause of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s paralysis (no indication raw milk was involved).  Here is the abstract from Goldman AS, Schmalstieg EJ, Freeman DH Jr, Goldman DA, Schmalstieg FC Jr., J Med Biogr. 2003 Nov; 11(4): 232-40.  What was the cause of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s paralytic illness?

In 1921, when he was 39 years of age, Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted an illness characterized by: fever; protracted symmetric, ascending paralysis; facial paralysis; bladder and bowel dysfunction; numbness; and dysaesthesia.  The symptoms gradually resolved except for paralysis of the lower extremities.  The diagnosis at the onset of the illness and thereafter was paralytic poliomyelitis.  Yet his age and many features of the illness are more consistent with a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune polyneuritis.  The likelihoods (posterior probabilities) of poliomyelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome were investigated by Bayesian analysis.  Posterior probabilities were calculated by multiplying the prior probability (disease incidence in Roosevelt’s age group) by the symptom probability (likelihood of a symptom occurring in a disease).  Six of eight posterior probabilities strongly favored Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Got Milk?  Raw?