State health officials said they are investigating a man’s death and illnesses of four others possibly related to botulism following a New Year’s Day dinner in Nome where fermented beluga whale flipper and other traditional Alaska Native foods were served.
A “big concern” is the aged beluga flipper that has tested “preliminary positive” for a botulism toxin, said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
State officials are awaiting final results from the flipper and other foods served at the family potluck, as well as clinical samples from those who fell ill, Castrodale said. The samples were sent to a lab in Richmond, California. Final results are expected late next week.
People close to him say Thomas Menadelook Jr., 54, an accomplished whaler raised on the Bering Sea island of Little Diomede northwest of Nome, became sick the day after eating the flipper with excruciating stomach pain, vomiting, difficulty breathing, double vision and weakness.
Menadelook, who prepared the beluga flipper, soon suffered cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma, they said. Menadelook and three other adults who got sick, all family, were treated at the hospital in Nome, then flown to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage for treatment.
State health officials interviewed 14 people who ate food served at the potluck, said Castrodale. They learned that five had botulism-like symptoms, all adults, she said. The illnesses were limited to the dinner, and did not spark concern of a broader outbreak across the Northwest Alaska region, she said.