Two people from Lea County, NM are currently being treated in a Texas hospital with suspected botulism, according to state health officials Friday. The investigation into the illnesses is ongoing; however not surprisingly, contaminated food is the likely culprit.
Health officials with the two states are cooperating with the investigation.
Each year in the United States there are about 150 cases of botulism with about 25 of them specifically caused by contaminated foodstuffs. Food borne botulism is a severe intoxication caused by eating the preformed toxin present in contaminated food.
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.
Growth of this anaerobic bacteria and the formation of the toxin tend to happen in products with low acidity and oxygen content and low salt and sugar content. Inadequately processed, home-canned foods like asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn have commonly been implicated.
However, there have been outbreaks of botulism from more unusual sources such as chopped garlic in oil, chili peppers, improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil and home-canned or fermented fish. Garden foods like tomatoes, which used to be considered too acidic for the growth of Clostridium botulinum, is now considered a potentially hazardous food in home canning.
Though more common in home-canned foods, it does happen occasionally in commercially prepared foods.
Typically, from 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.