Canada’s native populations, especially the Inuit of Nunavut in northern Quebec and the First Nations communities of British Columbia’s Pacific coast, experienced most of the foodborne botulism outbreaks that occurred between 1985 and 2005. In a study appearing in the current edition (June 2013) of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases researchers from across Canada say 85 percent of the 91 laboratory-confirmed outbreaks of foodborne botulism during that time period took place among the nation’s native populations. Foodborne botulism outbreaks during the 20-year period sickened 205 Canadians and resulted in 11 deaths, according to the report. Of these outbreaks, 75 (86.2 percent) were caused by Clostridium botulinum type E, followed by types A (7/8.1 percent) and B (5/5.7 percent), they reported. Canada’s native communities “were predominately exposed to Type E botulinum toxin through consumption of traditionally prepared marine mammal and fish products,” according to the researchers. Two botulism outbreaks were attributed to ready-to-eat meat products and three were from foods served in restaurants. In addition they found several cases attributed to non-native home-prepared foods. Three of the victims were pregnant women who went on to deliver healthy infants. “Improvements in botulism case identification and early treatment have resulted in a reduction in the case-fatality rate in Canada,” the researchers found. According to the report, the last epidemiologic review of foodborne botulism in Canada was for the period 1971-1984. Since then, the researchers said annual surveys of botulism cases have been published inconsistently through disease surveillance reports. In Canada the most common serotype of botulism is C. botulinum type E, first reported in Nanaimo, BC in 1944. Because of the urgency of botulism, Canada considers one case to constitute an outbreak. Botulism is caused by eating food contaminated with botulinum toxins, which attack the nervous system and can lead to paralysis of the respiratory system and death if it goes untreated. Geographically, Quebec and British Columbia were the dominant centers for botulism outbreaks, with 89 and 71 cases respectively. Together the two provinces accounted for 78 percent of the outbreaks. While most were centered in native communities, there were two large restaurant outbreaks in Vancouver during the period that together accounted for 37 cases. In the two Vancouver restaurant outbreaks of botulism, garlic-in-oil was blamed for one and bottled chanterelle mushrooms for the other. Those outbreaks occurred in 1985 and 1987. During the period, there was one other restaurant-related botulism outbreak in Canada and that occurred in Ontario in 2002. Type A botulism was blamed on baked potatoes. “Other than a single outbreak in Nunavut caused by consumption of fermented fish heads, all type E outbreaks with known food sources in northern Canada were linked to marine mammals, including beluga whales, seals, and walruses,” according to the researchers. “Of the 41 botulism outbreaks in Nunavut, 32 (78 percent) were caused by food products of seal origin: aged meat (igunaq) and aged flippers (utjaq) were most frequently implicated foods in Nunavut, accounting for 15 (47 percent) seal-related outbreaks.” The study goes on to say that Beluga whales were involved in 16 (80 percent) of the 20 outbreaks in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. And 11 of these were cause by muktuk, which is aged skin with fat and meat from the Beluga whale. Nearly a dozen researchers from government agencies, including both federal and provincial health agencies, contributed to the report.