Two sisters in California fighting for their lives in ICU after eating SALAD contaminated with deadly paralyzing bacteria

Health chiefs investigating a bacterial outbreak at a party in California have traced the source back to a contaminated salad.

Two sisters who attended the family gathering in Fresno County last weekend are in intensive care on ventilators after eating cactus pads that contained C botulinum.

These toxins get into food that has not been properly preserved. Once in the body, they attack nerves, causing muscles and organs like the lungs to become paralyzed.

Around ten others who attended the party were hospitalized with botulism symptoms including blurred vision and vertigo, but have since been discharged.

Through interviews, officials learned all of them had attended the same family gathering and ate a homemade cactus salad. 

A bacterial infection outbreak has been traced the source back to a contaminated cactus salad (stock)

Norma Sanchez, communicable disease specialist with Fresno County Department of Public Health, said they identified the contaminated cactus after sifting through trash cans.

Sanchez’s team then tracked down the woman who prepared the salad — and learned the cactus pads, or nopales, had been prepared and stored in jars at home in May.

The bacteria that causes botulism is found in soil and ocean floors, where it can remain on the surface of foods like fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

These bacteria make spores, which act like protective coatings, which are usually harmless. 

However, warm and wet tight spaces lacking oxygen – such as plastic jars and cans – can lead to the bacteria to release toxins that attack the central nervous system.

Foods with low acid content are the most common sources of home-canning related botulism cases, according to the CDC, which include asparagus, green beans, beets, corn and nopales. 

Sanchez said the remaining jars containing the cacti were found in ‘bad shape’ in a shed.

‘The food had been out there for a couple of days already – it was a hundred and something degrees out there,’ Sanchez told local media. ‘I was just amazed.’

The woman told health department workers she didn’t follow any specific safety guidelines and had learned to can from family and friends. 

One of the sisters who remains hospitalized had eaten the contaminated salad three days in a row. The second had eaten it on two occasions.

The CDC estimates that there are just 25 cases of foodborne botulism in the US each year, making it vanishingly rare.

About five percent of people who develop botulism die, according to the CDC. For others, it can cause lifelong disability and extreme physical therapy. 

The cactus pads or nopales (shown here) had been prepared at home in May and improperly stored

The cactus pads or nopales (shown here) had been prepared at home in May and improperly stored

Patients who are paralyzed need to relearn how to walk, talk, and perform everyday tasks again.

The Fresno health department is urging people to follow proper storing and cooking methods to lower their risk of botulism. 

Temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) make it easier for bacterial spores to form.

Any food at risk of contamination should be heated up to 240–250F, and heated all the way through.

Symptoms of botulism include difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, double vision, drooping eyelids, blurry vision, slurred speech, difficulty breathing, and trouble moving the eyes, according to the CDC.

Foodborne infection can also cause vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea.