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Toronto woman hospitalized overseas with botulism

A Toronto woman has been hospitalized in France with a severe case of botulism after eating improperly preserved sardines at a Bordeaux wine bar.

Tchin Tchin Wine Bar, located in Bordeaux's tourist district, served the sardines between Sept. 4 and Sept. 10, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. At least 15 people were infected with botulism, French health authorities say, including a 32-year-old woman from Paris who succumbed to the illness.

Botulism is a rare disease caused by a toxin found in a specific type of bacteria. It is most often found in improperly canned, preserved and fermented foods. Symptoms of botulism include drooping eyelids, blurred vision, respiratory failure, paralysis and vomiting.

Toronto women Jubilee Pridham and Gabby Chartier are among those who contracted the devastating illness at the restaurant. Both face “a long road to recovery,” according to Pridham’s partner Lowell Sostomi, though Chartier received the antitoxin more quickly than Pridham.

“We’re seeing improvements,” Sostomi said on Pridham's condition during an interview with CP24. “But it’s small steps every day.”

Pridham, Chartier and Chartier’s mother attended the restaurant on Sept. 9, the first day of a “much-anticipated” trip to France and Spain, according to the GoFundMe set up to offset Pridham’s mounting medical bills and expenses.

“She called me right after she ate at the restaurant, and she told me, ‘we just had the stinkiest fish dish, and you’d have hated it,’” said Sostomi. He says Pridham’s passion is food and wine, which made the trip to Europe all the more exciting for her.

Toronto resident Jubilee Pridham is in hospital with botulism, a rare disease, after eating improperly canned sardines at a Bordeaux wine bar. HandoutThe day after she ate the sardines, Pridham woke up to double vision and difficulty breathing and swallowing. By the end of the day, she had lost her ability to see, speak and move, and was quickly transported to hospital, where she remains. Her ability to communicate has slowly improved from hand squeezes to writing on a whiteboard, says Sostomi, but full recovery remains a way off.

Pridham, a general manager at Toronto restaurant Piano Piano, did not receive the botulism antitoxin until she had been exposed for 72 hours. Most people, when treated within a 96-hour window of exposure, have a better chance of full recovery.

“We’re just trying to manage expectations,” said Sostomi. “It’s slow, and it’s frustrating. But we’re staying positive. We all believe she's going to have a full recovery.” 

The GoFundMe set up in Pridham’s honour will continue to fund the costs associated with travel for Sostomi and her family, as well as Airbnb expenses and lost wages from time away from work.

French newspaper Le Figaro has reported that an involuntary manslaughter complaint has been filed against the wine bar, whose owner has said publicly that he threw away additional cans of sardines due to a bad smell and insufficient seal. The restaurant is not required to stay closed, but French authorities have prohibited the establishment from serving homemade products while the investigation is underway.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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