DOH suspects contaminated food behind poisoning at Imelda's birthday bash

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 04 2019 02:48 AM

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III talks to patients who fell ill during the 90th birthday celebration of former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, the flamboyant wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on July 3, 2019, in Manila. Bullit Marquez, AP Photo

MANILA—The Department of Health (DOH) said Wednesday that food packs contaminated with bacteria may have led to the poisoning of over 200 people who attended the birthday celebration of former first lady Imelda Marcos in Pasig City.

The patients experienced abdominal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea minutes after consuming the packed chicken adobo, boiled egg, and rice distributed at the event Wednesday morning.

“The clinical manifestation strongly points to a toxin derived from the bacteria known as staphyloccocus aureus,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters during a press briefing at the Rizal Medical Center after he visited the patients Wednesday afternoon.

“It could have come from the egg. The more common report is that the egg tasted foul, if not spoiled. We cannot discount the rice. It could be a contamination already. It might not be easy to differentiate whether it’s purely from the egg, from adobo or from the rice,” Duque added.

Dr. Primo Valenzuela, a medical specialist at Rizal Medical Center, said that symptoms of toxins from staphyloccocus aureus usually appear in less than 6 hours.

“How do we get it? Maybe unsanitary practices during the time of preparation… Maybe (food) was not stored at the correct temperature,” he said.

“Puwedeng 'yung nag-prepare, hindi malinis ang kamay niya. Puwedeng dun nanggaling ang bacteria. So 'yung bacteria na 'yun, napunta sa pagkain. Hindi kinain agad. Puwedeng dumami, nag-produce ng toxin. So 'yung toxin na 'yun 'yung sanhi ng symptoms na pagtatae, pagsusuka, pananakit ng tiyan,” Valenzuela added.

The health department said it will validate the cause of food poisoning in the next few days.

As of Wednesday afternoon, some 261 people were rushed to different hospitals in Metro Manila.

  • The Medical City - 100
  • Rizal Medical Center - 43
  • Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center - 23
  • Pasig City General Hospital - 40
  • Cardinal Santos Medical Center - 20
  • Tri-City Medical Center - 20
  • Mandaluyong City Medical Center - 5
  • Ospital ng Makati - 4
  • Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center - 6

While some patients were discharged, 2 others continue to suffer from severe dehydration and are currently being monitored.

“For as long as they are hydrated, I am confident that they are going to be okay. But we can’t leave any stone unturned. Kinakailangang tutukan,” Duque said.

He called on others who are experiencing signs of food poisoning to go to the nearest hospital, noting that 2,500 food packs were distributed at the celebration.

Duque assured those affected that government hospitals will accommodate them.

“Our hospitals, government hospitals, are fully equipped to deal with these cases, and we have no problems in terms of supplies needed, medicines and rehydrating fluid,” he said.

Marcos, the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was not affected, radio station DWIZ quoted her chief of staff as saying. Video posted on Facebook showed people lining up at her table to greet her.

Marcos is famous for her massive collection of shoes, jewelry and artwork. Her family remains a powerful yet divisive force in politics and enjoys good ties with President Rodrigo Duterte.

"The food may have been spoiled, but we remain solid," her daughter and Sen. Imee Marcos told those left at the party in comments streamed live on Facebook.

"Let's just take care of those who are in the hospital and expect that we will visit each one of them," she said.

The incident adds to more misery for Imelda Marcos, who is the subject of dozens of graft cases that have hounded her since her family was toppled in a popular uprising in 1986.

She was sentenced to 11 years in prison on 7 counts of corruption last year for making illegal bank transfers worth $200 million to Swiss foundations while Manila governor in the 1970s.

Marcos denies the charges and is on bail pending her appeal.—With reports from Reuters