Earlier this month, Canadian media reported on two cases of botulism in a 54-year-old woman and her 30-year-old daughter, which authorities suspected may be due to the consumption of beluga whale meat.

Image/ Gavemyheart3162 at English Wikipedia
Image/ Gavemyheart3162 at English Wikipedia

Today, local media reports that beluga meat has been confirmed as the source of the botulism that killed mother and hospitalized the daughter.

The beluga meat that was sent to Ottawa for testing and came back positive for Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism.

The health centre in Inukjuak reported treating other patients with symptoms of botulism, although it remains unclear if those patients ate the same beluga meat and no other cases were confirmed.

The meat in question came from belugas hunted near Umiujaq at the end of June,Dr. Marie Rochette, coordinator of infectious disease prevention at Nunavik’s public health department said, when temperatures along the Hudson Bay coast rose as high as 28C.

“Warm temperatures can be the cause of the bacteria,” Rochette said.

Health officials advised the public to discard any remaining meat, fat or oil.

Food borne botulism is a severe intoxication caused by eating the preformed toxin present in contaminated food.

Nunavik Québec Public domain image/wikimedia commons
Nunavik Québec
Public domain image/wikimedia commons

Food borne botulism occurs when the bacterium Clostridium botulinum is allowed to grow and produce toxin in food that is later eaten without sufficient heating or cooking to inactivate the toxin. Botulinum toxin is one of the most potent neurotoxins known.

Typically in a few hours to several days after you eat the contaminated food you will start to show the classic symptoms; blurred vision, dry mouth, and difficulty in swallowing. Gastrointestinal symptoms may or may not occur. If untreated, the paralysis always descends through the body starting at the shoulders and working its way down.

The most serious complication of botulism is respiratory failure where it is fatal in up to 10% of people. It may take months before recovery is complete.

If the disease is caught early enough it can be treated with antitoxin. If paralysis and respiratory failure happen, the person may be on a ventilator for several weeks.