A woman has died and at least a dozen other people have become ill with botulism in France after eating homemade sardine preserves at a wine bar in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, French officials said on Wednesday, as they warned that other cases could soon come to light.
The sick people had all eaten over the course of last week at the Tchin Tchin Wine Bar, an organic wine bar in central Bordeaux that is popular with foreign tourists, according to French health authorities.
One woman who lives in the Paris region died after returning home and checking into a hospital, doctors said on Wednesday. Her partner was also hospitalized. Eight of the other victims are still at a hospital in Bordeaux. Most of them are in intensive care and receiving respiratory assistance.
Although test results are pending, French health authorities said they were confident that botulism, an extremely rare but potentially life-threatening illness, was the cause, and they blamed the wine bar’s homemade, oil-based sardine preserves.
Local authorities did not identify the victims but said that most of them were from countries abroad, including the United States, Germany, Canada and Ireland. All but one of them are 30 to 40 years old.
Bordeaux, famous for its wine and gastronomy, is already one of France’s top tourist destinations. But it has seen an even bigger surge of visitors in recent days as the country hosts the Rugby World Cup.
The restaurant owner acknowledged that some of the preserves had a “bad smell” when he opened them, but he said the ones he served to his customers appeared safe, according to local officials.
Thierry Touzet, a local official in charge of consumer safety, said on Wednesday at a news conference that the establishment was “rather well-run” and had never been reported for health violations in the past, but that the owner had a “very artisanal” method for making the sardine preserves.
Health authorities urged anyone who recently ate at the wine bar to seek medical attention if they experienced any symptoms, which in botulism cases can start several hours to several days after eating contaminated food. The French health ministry has issued an urgent warning to health professionals around the country and abroad.
“We could have new cases up until this weekend,” Benoît Elleboode, the head of the regional health authority for Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the region that includes Bordeaux, said at the news conference.
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, botulism is caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves and paralyzes muscles. Symptoms include difficulty breathing or swallowing, slurred speech, blurry vision, vomiting and diarrhea.
The bacteria that make the botulinum toxin are found naturally and are usually harmless, according to the C.D.C. But foods that are improperly canned, preserved or fermented can provide the right conditions for the bacteria to produce lethal toxins. Most patients who become ill with botulism fully recover, but it can take several months.
Dr. Benjamin Clouzeau, an intensive care specialist at Pellegrin Hospital in Bordeaux, said at the news conference that the first case was identified on Saturday. He noted that the illness was exceptionally rare but “very fast-moving.”
“From the moment it attacks the nerves, it blocks them,” he said.
The authorities have confiscated preserves stored at the wine bar pending test results and the bar will be temporarily closed for a thorough cleaning. Twenty-five customers potentially ate the sardines served at the wine bar last week, Mr. Touzet said, adding that investigators were using credit card receipts and booking information to track them down.
“The main challenge is to contact customers who are not yet hospitalized, who we haven’t identified, and who have potentially consumed these jars of sardines,” he said.