Harris Wolobah, a healthy 14-year-old from Worcester, Massachusetts, tragically died last Friday, hours after eating a single ultra-spicy tortilla chip seasoned with two of the hottest peppers in the world.
The teen's mother, Lois Wolobah, reportedly picked up her son from school that day after getting a call from the nurse that he was sick. She arrived to see him clutching his stomach and took him home. About two hours later, he lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital, where he died.
The teen had told his mother that he had eaten a Paqui chip—The 2023 Paqui One Chip Challenge chip, to be exact. Each chip is sold individually, wrapped in a foil pouch and packaged in a coffin-shaped box adorned with a skull, snakes, and a Grim Reaper. The box contains the challenge rules, which dare consumers to eat the whole chip and "wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything"—and, of course, post reactions on social media.
哈里斯告诉母亲，他吃了一片Paqui薯片——确切地说是2023年的Paqui One Chip Challenge玉米片。每片单独销售，包装在一个装有骷髅、蛇和死神图案的棺材形状盒子中。盒子里附有挑战规则，鼓励消费者吃完整片玉米片，并“尽可能长时间不喝水或进食”，当然，还要在社交媒体上发布反应。
Lois Wolobah believes the chip played a role in the death of her son, who had no known underlying medical conditions.
"I just want there to be an awareness for parents to know that it’s not safe," Wolobah told The New York Times in an article that published Wednesday. "It needs to be out of the market completely."
On Thursday, the maker of the Paqui chip—Amplify Snack Brands, a subsidiary of the Hershey Company—announced that they were taking the potentially deadly chip off shelves.
7日，Paqui薯片厂家好时公司子公司Amplify Snack Brands宣布他们将下架这种可能致命的薯片。
The chip was intended only for adults and carried clear warnings, the company said in a statement. It was not intended for "children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions.We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings," the statement went on. "As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves."
Harris Wolobah's cause of death is not yet determined; it's not certain if the chip is to blame. An autopsy will be conducted, but the results could take up to 12 weeks, according to the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The Paqui chip was seasoned with the Carolina Reaper pepper, the current hottest pepper in the world, and the Naga Viper pepper, which was the reigning hottest pepper in 2011 but is now merely among the top 10.
Paqui薯片是用目前世界上最辣的辣椒Carolina Reaper辣椒和Naga Viper辣椒调味的，后者在2011年当选全球最辣辣椒，如今排名前十。
These extreme peppers are linked with serious health concerns. In the 2020 case study, the Mississippi doctors reported that a healthy 15-year-old developed severe headaches for days after eating a Carolina Reaper pepper on a dare. Six days later, when he showed up at an emergency department with worsening headache, nausea, and vomiting, doctors found that his blood pressure was spiking and arteries in his brain had spasmed, limiting blood flow and leading to swelling and an infarct (tissue death due to inadequate blood supply). They diagnosed him with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) secondary to pepper ingestion. After treatment, he made a full recovery.
"These ultraspicy peppers may either contain a unique vasoactive substance, or there is a dose-related effect of capsaicin concentration that can trigger RCVS," the doctors concluded. "Further research in this area is needed to determine the exact pathophysiology of this phenomenon. This case provides further evidence that ingestion of hot peppers may lead to serious consequences and that further research is needed to assess their safety."
It's not the first time RCVS was linked to the Carolina Reaper. In 2018, doctors in New York reported a case of a 34-year-old man who ate the pepper during a pepper-eating contest. In the days following, he developed severe neck and head pain, and intensely painful thunderclap headaches. Scans showed unexpected narrowing of arteries in his brain. He, too, recovered after treatment.
"RCVS should be considered in the differential diagnosis in patients who present with thunderclap headache after ingestion of cayenne [capsaicin-containing] pepper, which is a vasoactive substance," they concluded.
But the brain's vasculature may not be the only big concern from extreme capsaicin doses. A 2012 case study from Turkey reported that a healthy 25-year-old man suffered a heart attack after taking cayenne pepper pills marketed for weight loss. Tests indicated that the cause of the heart attack was spasms of the coronary arteries. The researchers noted similar effects had been seen in rat hearts.
"We suggest that this product, which may increase the risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events, be closely supervised and controlled by relevant institutions worldwide," the authors wrote of the cayenne pepper pills.
It's unclear how the Paqui chip's capsaicin levels compared to those in the weight-loss pills—and if the levels are even standardized in each of the individual chips. Or, as the Mississippi doctors speculated, if the Carolina Reaper contains "a unique vasoactive substance" beyond capsaicin. But, for now, it's not out of the question that capsaicin alone could have led to death.
Dr. Peter Chai, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Associated Press that the capsaicin could be deadly on its own.
"It’s possible eating these chips with high concentration of capsaicin could cause death," Chai said. "It would really depend on the amount of capsaicin that an individual was exposed to. At high doses, it can lead to fatal dysrhythmia or irreversible injury to the heart."
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