A mother has revealed her daughter developed arthritis linked to contracting Salmonella while on holiday in the Canary Islands.

Eleven-year-old Phoebe Bettey, from Plymouth in England, went to Lanzarote with family in late July 2019. They stayed at the Holiday Village Lanzarote, run by tour operator TUI UK. One week into the holiday, Phoebe fell ill with gastric illness, which was later confirmed to be salmonellosis.

Several weeks after being diagnosed with the gastric infection, Phoebe developed a secondary condition, reactive arthritis, which is joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of the body. In most cases, it clears up within a few months but long term treatment may be needed. She now requires medication and is under the review of a pediatrician.

“Since our holiday to Lanzarote, Phoebe has struggled a lot. She is far too young to be dealing with something like this, and it is heartbreaking to know that she is in pain. Reactive arthritis was something I really didn’t know much about before last year and, like most people, I assumed it was probably a condition that older people suffer with,” said Phoebe’s mother Jane Cray.

Infected while on holiday
Phoebe was nine-years-old when the family went on holiday to Lanzarote in July 2019. At the start of August, she began to feel unwell with symptoms of nausea, a headache and high fever. She then began to have diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Phoebe was diagnosed with Salmonella infection following admission to a hospital in Lanzarote. The family flew home on Aug. 8 while Phoebe was still suffering from loose stools and abdominal pain.

About a month after the holiday, Phoebe started complaining of puffy eyes and pain in her toes, legs and joints. She was diagnosed with reactive arthritis, believed to be linked to the Salmonella infection contracted in Lanzarote. Phoebe now takes anti-inflammatory medication and is being reviewed by a pediatrician. She continues to suffer from puffy eyes, swollen toes and painful legs and joints.

Phoebe and family have joined with their legal team at Irwin Mitchell to mark National Arthritis Week from Oct. 7 to 13 and World Arthritis Day on Oct. 12 by raising awareness of the link between the condition and gastric infections such as Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Yersinia, and Cyclospora. All can be foodborne.

“I wish I could turn back the clock and stop us from going on holiday last July, but I know this isn’t possible. I just hope that by sharing what Phoebe is going through, we will help raise awareness of the condition and the symptoms people should be looking out for,” said Cray.

Raise awareness and offer support
Phoebe’s family asked lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how she fell ill. Jennifer Hodgson, associate solicitor, said the hope was to help raise awareness of the condition and links it has to illnesses such as Salmonella.

“The past year has been an incredibly difficult one for Phoebe, firstly contracting Salmonella during a family holiday, and then to develop reactive arthritis shortly afterwards. Due to the debilitating effects of the condition, Phoebe has missed several days of school and has had to cut back on activities she enjoys, such as football, which is understandably upsetting for her,” she said.

“Reactive arthritis is often triggered by an infection of the bowel, such as food poisoning, but this is widely unknown. It is also widely unknown that illnesses such as this can affect both adults and children.”

Meanwhile, researchers recently found reactive arthritis is fueled by a protein during Salmonella infection.

Infections with Salmonella bacteria, which produce curli amyloid, are implicated in the painful inflammatory condition, which affects about 5 percent of people infected with bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illness. Very little is known about how or why it develops.

Scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University showed that in mice infected with Salmonella Typhimurium, curli provokes the generation of autoantibodies and joint inflammation. The study was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The research team’s next plan is to determine if the findings translate to humans, and whether curli proteins from other pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli, are capable of generating similar autoimmune reactions.

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