Food Poisoning: National Health Service 0 – uBiome 1


The culprit

Food poisoning is not a lot of fun. Especially when your immune system is dysfunctional as mine is from ME/CFS.

It was my mother’s birthday in August, and we took her for a meal in a nice village pub near Bath, England. I ordered a very tasty looking quail for the starter. It was a char-grilled piece and around half way through I turned it over and noticed that the other half was barely cooked. In fact the middle was completely raw. I had already eaten a great deal of it without really paying attention. Stupid!

Anyway, I thought it was likely to give me food poisoning but there wasn’t much I could do but wait and see. I didn’t have to wait long. Around four or five hours later my stomach was very angry. I felt extremely nauseous, though strangely did not vomit. It was terrible at the other end though…that’s all I’m going to say about symptoms. This went on for three days in which time I didn’t eat anything else. Then I started to improve a bit and thought the ordeal was over. Not so quick.

I started eating some mild foods, and then some stronger foods after a couple of days, but after about three or four days later I began feeling worse again. It got so bad I had to stop eating altogether for a second time. This time for a little over two days. I repeated the same process again but after around a week I started getting ill for a third time!! What the fuck!?!

By this time I had been to the doctors half a dozen times. My stomach in particular was so painful and I had provided two stool tests which came back normal. I was told that sometimes they couldn’t culture things very well. This NHS had no plan B for dealing with this, it’s good that the doctors were sympathetic but what I really needed was an avenue we could go down to figure things out, and there simply wasn’t one. Great. It seems ridiculous to me, to be trying to grow the bug in a dish when we are so rubbish at it! With ME/CFS I am used to having to doctor myself, so I sat down and gave it some thought. Could uBiome help, I wondered?
16S rRNA sequencing should pick up whatever is in the sample, it doesn’t need to be alive, it doesn’t need to be grown. I had a spare uBiome kit lying around so I sent off a sample.

I then had another four days without any food. Even in the days between when I had had food it had been very bland and not very nutritious. I was very weak, had lost a lot of weight and was pretty desperate and so I held out as long as I could in the hope of killing whatever it was off. Fasting for four days is not easy, especially when you are sick with food poisoning, ulcerative colitis and ME/CFS. But I managed it. I couldn’t do any longer, I had to eat. After this I was well enough to eat bland food for two weeks, then move onto more advanced food. I am still not right now, a month and a half on. I’d say 80% better. Progress is very slow.

My uBiome results arrived yesterday. It didn’t take me long to spot the problem: Campylobacter ureolyticus.
This was not present in any of my previous uBiome tests, and Campylobacter is a very common cause of food poisoning, especially via poultry; the avian intestinal tract having been identified as the main environmental niche. It is also a pathogen that was originally identified via molecular, rather than classical culture techniques, suggesting we aren’t great at growing it…The two most common species of Campylobacter recorded to cause gastroenteritis are C. jejuni and C. coli but there is acknowledgement that C. ureolyticus might be under reported, with some studies suggesting C. ureolyticus (24.4%) occurs more frequently than C. coli (6.7%). The most common species identified being C. jejuni (72.4%).

I think that is a pretty awesome result. The NHS couldn’t figure it out, but uBiome could. Maybe one day the NHS will catch up?

Further reading, for geeks:
O’Donovan D et al. Virulence. 2014;5. Campylobacter ureolyticus: a portrait of the pathogen.