VIA ProMED 11 January 2011
Not actually about a virus, but presents a valuable lesson for all travelers…
An Argentinean tourist in Jamaica made a fatal error by excessively seasoning his meal of fish and potatoes with sodium nitrate (saltpetre), mistaking it for common table salt. Sodium nitrate is often used for the curing of meats, which explains its presence in the rented villa. A limited understanding of the English language is to be blamed for the abrupt and tragic conclusion of his vacation, made with his wife to renew their vows.
By impeding haemoglobin function, preventing oxygen transport, ingestion of nitrate produces headache, bluish pallor, dizziness, breathing difficulty (dyspnea), arrhythmias, tachycardia, cardiac arrest, coma, and death. Nitrate oxidizes the ferrous ion to the ferric state, converting haemoglobin to methemoglobin, unable to bind and realease oxygen molecules. Additionally, the interaction of nitrates and nitrites with meat sometimes produces nitrosamines, which are carcinogens, and may be responsible for gastro and esophageal cancers, and are also suspect for colon cancer. The meat preservative is regulated in some countries for these reasons—US Federal regulations limit the amount of nitrate additives used in food preparations.
The use of nitrates and nitrites in food preparation is nearly ancient, and highlights and interesting bit of history about Clostiridium botulinum, which produces a toxin causing botulism, ending in paralysis and/or death. Botulinum was named after sausage (Latin botulus), known to carry the bacteria and cause death prior to the introduction of meat curing, which is not only antimicrobial process, but also a method of giving meat pink color and flavor.
…think twice before you go for the ham.