It's easy to blame chicken for Guillain-Barré syndrome

A few cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome have sounded the sanitary alarm in Mexico blaming chicken consumption without knowing the truth.

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BenjamĂ­n Ruiz

Guillain-Barré syndrome has caused seven deaths in Mexico in the past few days, particularly in the small state of Tlaxcala. Local health authorities immediately blamed chicken for this rare syndrome, which could eventually impact consumption of the most important protein in the country.

People affected by Guillain-Barré syndrome have, in general, suffered from food poisoning in the days leading up to the syndrome’s appearance. It leads to a tingling sensation in the arms and legs, which evolves into paralysis (if not properly treated) and possibly to death. From 81 people affected in Tlaxcala, 40 were positive for Campylobacter jejuni.

Associating this syndrome with chicken makes no sense. Food poisoning could come from consuming foods contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni or other pathogenic bacteria. But this Campy is not only in chicken, but in any other raw food with poor hygienic handling. Plus, if chicken is contaminated with Campy, and if it is cooked at a minimum of 70°C, wham! bacteria die. And who eats raw chicken?

The heart of the matter here is food hygiene, particularly now that we are going through one of the hottest and driest springs in Mexico that I have ever felt in my life. Cross-contamination, lack of refrigeration, not washing your hands, all these and other factors should be emphasized, not just blaming chicken.

General media, as always looking for sensationalism, were showing unrefrigerated raw chicken on TV and newspapers with their content and trying to scare the population. They did not show a corn on the cob, or a cut-off papaya or a street food stand. Even pets carry Campy! It had to be chicken.

I must praise the Instituto Nacional AvĂ­cola (National Poultry Institute) of Mexico for its quick and clever way of responding to national media and the worries of the general public through interviews on the radio, social media and podcasts, with highly knowledgeable experts. They clearly explained the actual facts of buying food in stores with refrigeration, not washing chicken before cooking and so on.

Lastly, I would like to add that I am truly sorry for the deaths, but there are more people that die from smoking cigarettes, consuming drugs or from obesity. Do authorities react that quickly with those public health problems? Do we know if the people that died had other health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity? Should the so popular pollerĂ­as (chicken outlets) be controlled by the health authorities such as they do with other businesses? Let us not spread panic!

What do you think?

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