A study shows promise for future victims of botulism poisoning, which is a particularly dangerous foodborne illness that can quickly paralyze respiratory muscles causing suffocation.

The botulism antitoxin heptavalent (BAT) therapy described in a new post-licensure study greatly reduced length and severity of symptoms in adults infected with Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The length of time requiring mechanical help to breathe dropped by more than half among patients who received the treatment, compared with those who did not, according to information posted by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP).

Researchers followed the progress of 162 patients, with a median age of 51, who were treated with BAT for suspected botulism poisoning in the United States from 2014 through 2017. Of the 162 patients, 113 received a final diagnosis of botulism.

“Those treated within two days of symptom onset with BAT spent far less time in the hospital (5 vs 15.5 days) than those treated more than 2 days after symptom onset. They also spent less time in intensive care (4 vs 12 days) and on mechanical ventilation (6 vs 14.5 days),” according to CIDRAP’s post.

Seven patients reported serious side effects from the treatment. BAT was licensed for use in the United States in 2013 based on efficacy studies in animal models. The treatment is a mixture of immune globulin fragments derived from horses.

Botulism is a neuroparalytic illness spread by Clostridium botulinum bacteria and, if left untreated, can cause death. Cases can arise sporadically or from known exposures. 

In 2017 a deadly outbreak of botulism poisoning was documented in California. Traceback and patient interviews led to heated cheese sauce from a dispenser in a gas station convenience store as the source of the pathogen.

Ten people were lab-confirmed victims of the outbreak. All required hospitalization. One person, a 37-year-old father of two, died. Nine of the victims had to spend time in intensive care units. Seven of the ICU patients had to be placed on ventilators because the botulism poisoning paralyzed muscles that are used for breathing.

Botulism poisoning is also frequently associated with home canned and preserved foods. Certain types of countertop cookers are particularly dangerous in terms of failing to kill the bacteria that causes the poisoning. 

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