'I felt like an absolute pariah in hospital': Durban Salmonellosis patient

12 November 2018 - 08:24
Jennifer Harris was recently hospitalised for seven days with a severe case of Salmonellosis.
Jennifer Harris was recently hospitalised for seven days with a severe case of Salmonellosis.
Image: Wendy Knowler

“The really scary thing is I don’t know for sure how I got it.”


Jennifer Harris of Manors, Pinetown, in greater Durban, spent seven days in Hillcrest Private Hospital battling severe Salmonella “poisoning”, her stomach having “blown up like a balloon” after attending a corporate Christmas party on the night of Friday, November 2. 
Then came the intense stomach cramps and, by the Sunday morning, she had been admitted to hospital.

“The doctors suspected Salmonella because they’d already seen a few cases by then, but my already high infection marker continued to go up, even after initial treatment, so they put me in an isolation ward and told me I wasn’t going to be going home anytime soon.”

The only thing she ate prior to falling ill, which her husband didn’t, was aioli, a garlic sauce made with raw egg.

“But no-one else who ate it at that party got sick, so I can’t be certain that was it,” she said.

Harris, who had no previous health problems, spent seven days on a drip, taking 11 different medications daily.

Salmonella "poisoning" victim Jennifer Harris
Salmonella "poisoning" victim Jennifer Harris
Image: Wendy Knowler

“I felt like an absolute pariah in there. I had to have a dedicated toilet. The amazing medical staff wore gloves and gowns whenever they came near me, swabbed everything to do with me continually and gave me my food on disposable plates.

“Often, instead of coming into my room, they’d knock on the glass door and give me a thumbs up.”

Worst of all, Harris said, was not being able to see her two-year-old son that entire week. “It was far too risky for him.”

Two other people were admitted to that hospital with Salmonella poisoning while Harris was there, and both were discharged before her, she said.

She finally went home on Saturday, but is still far from well and has “a bucketful of meds” to take.

“I have no energy, so my husband is doing absolutely everything, while I wash my hands obsessively.”

Nursing staff advised her to avoid eating out for a while, and stick to home-cooked food instead.

FACTs about salmonella

Salmonellosis is the most common food-borne disease and in South Africa, it’s notifiable. Typically, people fall ill between six and 72 hours after eating contaminated food, experiencing diarrhoea, stomach cramps and often a high fever, vomiting and body aches as well. People with salmonellosis usually recover without treatment within a week, but the bacteria remains in the intestinal tract and stool for weeks after recovery of symptoms - about a month in adults and longer in children. Overall, about 20% of cases require hospitalisation, 5% of cases have an invasive infection and one-half of 1% die.

- Food safety attorney Bill Marler

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