Thursday, July 24, 2003
Carmel on the Case: Worried Sick
Broward County doctors are being asked to "be on the lookout" for an unusual disease that's showing up in one South Florida community. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero says the illness is caused by a parasite that has its victims - "Worried Sick".
SusanGringauz: "On a normal day you can go 26 times to the bathroom."
AllisonGelfand: "Everytime you eat, you get sick."
Matthew Joss: "Then it started to hurt really bad in the morning when I'd wake up, like really bad - and then I couldn't move all day long."
They have been infected by the parasite - entamoeba histolytica - most commonly found in poor countries - not sophisticated suburbs.
Dr. Gary Luckman, Gastroenterologist: "It's rare in civilized populations and Coral Springs being civilized, I would think it would be quite unusual."
The Health Department agrees - and says the real mystery here is how such a seldom-seen disease moved into Coral Springs.
Dr. Tammy Blankenship, Broward Health Department: "It is a disease that's fecally, orally transmitted so you get it by contamination."
The parasite can be spread when a carrier doesn't wash his hands after using the bathroom or it can also be found in water contaminated by sewage in a canal or lake.
Dr. Blankenship: "So far, we haven't found a common source of the problem."
All of the victims live within a few miles of each other.
Allison Gelfand and Susan Gringauz are both stay-at-home moms.
Allison: "I was getting sick every four to six weeks with this and would be flat on my back for five to seven days."
Susan: "I have three children, I couldn't take care of my kids by myself."
Matthew Joss is the youngest victim at eighteen.
Sandi Joss, Matthew's Mom: "I mean, the pain was so excruciating, he's burnt from the chest down because he lives with a heating pad."
Matthew: "I was like thinking all day what's inside my stomach, what's going on inside my stomach?"
By coincidence - all found out about each other.
They had the same symptoms and couldn't get any answers despite multiple medical tests.
In fact, all say they were told to see a psychiatrist.
Matthew: "He was like, 'No, it's all in your head,' I was like 'No, I think it's in my stomach, there's something wrong with my stomach, sir.'"
Susan found a specialist in New York who diagnosed the disease.
Cysts caused by the parasite had invaded their intestines.
Once diagnosed -- it can be treated.
Otherwise - gastroenterologist Gary Luckman says - it can lead to serious liver problems.
Dr. Luckman: "I would look for a common source, you need to assume that all of these people were infected by a common source."
That source could be food from a restaurant - or from a piece of fruit or a vegetable that wasn't washed - or water that somehow got contaminated.
Finding the source won't be easy because it's been months since the victims got sick.
Dr. Blankenship: "Because it's been so long since the original infection, finding that common source might indeed be a challenge."
But the Broward County Health Department is taking on that challenge. And, it has sent out this letter to doctors in northwest Broward asking if any have seen other cases of the disease.
Susan: "I'm afraid that there are a lot of people just walking around sick."
Susan, Allison, and Matthew are finally getting the parasite out of their systems and getting back to their normal lives.
Matthew: "I'm just happy that I know it's going to be going away soon or I hope."
They also hope by speaking out, they can stop other people in their town from being worried sick.
If there's a story you want Carmel to investigate - give her a call.
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