Indian teen dies from infectious bacteria in Shawarma, over 50 hospitalized

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A 16-year-old fell sick and died after eating a shawarma from an eatery in the Indian state of Kerala on May 1, national media reported, with the latest findings pointing at a shigella infection caused by bacterium of the same name.

More than 52 people reportedly fell sick after eating the popular Levantine dish from the south-Indian town’s local eatery on April 29 and 30.

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Devananda, the only fatality among the 52, had shawarma from the snack bar on both days, the New Indian Express (TNIE) reported citing police.

However, all the sick required treatment with seven people in intensive care units across three hospitals. Their conditions are stable according to the district’s medical officer Dr. A. V. Ramdas, cited by TNIE.

The youngest patient is a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, and the oldest is a 39-year-old man.

The highly contagious intestinal infection is caused by “unhygienic, undercooked or contaminated food and water,” said the medical officer in the same report.

Diarrhea is the main symptom, he continued, adding that stomach pain, fever, vomiting, tiredness, and bloody excrement can also be evident.

While death is not common for an individual with the shigella infection, a weak immune system or the pathogen’s resistance to antibiotics can prove fatal, TNIE reported.

The current hot and humid weather conditions in Kerala call for safer handling of food and its preservation, especially if it has animal origin, to prevent similar food poisoning incidents.

Police have reportedly arrested the owner and staff behind the eatery, according to local media.

An angry crowd threw stones at the snacks bar and shattered its window panes and set on fire a van linked to the eatery, TNIE reported.

The operation was reportedly unlicensed, prompting authorities to conduct strict inspections at eateries, including hotels and food outlets that may be operating in a similar fashion.

News of the teen’s death also compelled Kerala’s neighboring state Tamil Nadu to crackdown on shawarma sellers who fail to maintain hygiene. In the initial inspection run, one shop was found to be without a license, according to local media reports.

While licensing is mandatory for restaurants under FSSAI (Foods Safety and Standard Act), including for streetside vendors, oversight is lax in most parts of the country.

In this instance that saw large public outcry, the Kerala state’s High Court initiated a public interest litigation (PIL) and asked authorities about the steps they have taken or will take to ensure food safety.

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