"We Were There" - Toxic Oil

We Were There Video Thumbnail for March 2020 lecture - Little Things Matter

In 1981, a 7-year-old Spanish boy died within hours of presenting with an unusual rash and respiratory distress. Within a week, over 500 more cases were reported in Spain. Patients had intense muscle pains, called myalgia, and very high numbers of a specific type of white blood cell, called eosinophilia. In total, over 20,000 cases occurred, and well over 300 people died.

In 1989, an astute physician from New Mexico reported a cluster of similar symptoms, including debilitating muscle pain, rashes, and dramatic eosinophilia. National surveillance data determined that over 1,500 Americans had eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, and 36 deaths were reported.

Through extensive collaborations and investigation, the causes of these similar outbreaks were traced back to a contaminated oil in Spain, and contaminated food supplements containing amino acid L-tryptophan in the United States.

The attendees present enjoyed a fascinating story of how disease detectives unraveled the mysteries of toxic oil syndrome and eosinophilia myalgia syndrome and how these investigations can help inform future CDC investigations of contaminated products.

Speakers included Drs. Edwin Kilbourne, Leslie Swygert, Andrew Geller, and Henry Falk.

  • SPEAKER BIOS – Biographies for the speakers featured during the “We Were There” lecture, “Little Things Matter: New Diseases Traced to Contaminated Food and Supplements” – Drs. Edwin Kilbourne, Leslie Swygert, Andrew Geller, and Henry Falk.
Page last reviewed: March 20, 2020
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