BANGKOK — The Ministry of Public Health on Thursday disputed a claim by an Australian couple that they contracted a serious disease from eating pad thai while vacationing in Thailand two years ago.
Officials said they have no knowledge of anyone being infected by dientamoeba fragilis in recent years, as claimed by Australian nationals Stacey Barnes and Ryan Prigg. The couple, who visited Phuket in 2017, said the pad thai they ate at a food court plagued their life with years of debilitating illness.
“This story is based on a claim that cannot be proven yet,” ministry perm-sec Sukhum Kanchanapimai said at a news conference. “It doesn’t mean Thailand doesn’t have dientamoeba fragilis, because this parasite does live in the environment. But even Australia has it.”
He continued, “Based on the data we have collected from people with diarrhea in Thailand, we have never found this parasite.”
Department of Disease Control director Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai also cast doubts on the story, which has been widely reported by Australian media.
“I am not saying they weren’t sick, but the important thing is that there must be proof of where the infection came from,” Suwannachai said. “Thailand has no records of the parasite being found in any lab test over the past 20 years.”
Stacey Barnes, 32, and her husband Ryan Prigg, 39, told Australian media they were left seriously ill by a 180-baht dish of pad thai that they ate in a Phuket food court.
The couple, who are parents to a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, said the prolonged disease cost them thousands of dollars and ruined a health and well-being business that they built together.
Barnes said the nightmarish condition made her “like a zombie” at times.
“I had no memory. I was really foggy and couldn’t retain any information. It was as if I was in a permanent fog,” she told news.com.au. The report said the couple was eventually diagnosed with dientamoeba fragilis.
The news has reignited discussions about food safety in Thailand, where experts say health regulations are not always enforced. Data released by the Ministry of Public Health in 2018 said at least 76,000 cases of food poisoning were reported that year, with the majority of incidents in the northeastern region.
“We won’t go back to Asian countries again, but I want people to be aware that these things can and do happen,” Barnes was quoted as saying.
Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha said he himself ordered investigations into the Australian couple’s claim, though he suggested he is skeptical.
“I have eaten pad thai too, but I turned out alright. I don’t know where or how they ate it,” Gen. Prayuth said on Tuesday.