Some twenty people have been hospitalized and one has died due to a botulism outbreak that has been linked to a church potluck dinner over the weekend in Lancaster, Ohio.

Botulism is often associated with home-canning Image/CDC
Botulism is often associated with home-canning

The Fairfield Medical Center reported on Tuesday seeing a number of patients exhibiting symptoms of the a rare, paralytic, foodborne illness botulism in people who were attending  a potluck on Sunday, April 19 at the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster. Approximately 60 people attended the event.

Botulism is not infectious, and cannot be spread from person-to-person.

Botulism anti-toxin is being supplied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to treat the patients, according to the Fairfield County Health Department. As of Tuesday the patients were on ventilators  awaiting the anti-toxin. At least five were considered to be in critical condition.

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 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.