What Is Botulism? Mass Poisoning Reported in Russia

what is botulism? mass poisoning reported in russia

Foodborne botulism is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by contaminated foods. Hospitalization is often required and appropriate treatment is essential.

More than 100 people have fallen ill following a mass food poisoning in Moscow and its surrounding cities, with dozens of hospitalizations. Four suspects have been arrested and charged with violating food safety requirements, and an investigation has been launched by Russia's Investigative Committee.

The mass poisoning is thought to have originated from a batch of packaged, preprepared beans contaminated with the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Spores of this bacterium are heat resistant and, in the absence of oxygen, grow to produce a deadly toxin called botulinum.

The conditions of canned and vacuum-packed foods provide the optimal conditions for these bacteria to thrive, and when consumed they cause a condition called botulism.

Botulism is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by the botulinum toxins, which block nerve activity and can lead to breathing and muscular paralysis. Interestingly, this is the same toxin that is injected into our skin during Botox treatment, to essentially paralyze the muscles in the face. However, when used for cosmetic treatments, the toxin is used in very low doses and not directly ingested.

Botulism is often caused by contaminated foods, but other sources are open wounds and poorly administered cosmetic injections. In rare cases, and for reasons the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say are still a mystery, the spores may develop inside the intestines of infants.

Early symptoms of botulism include fatigue, weakness, blurred vision and difficulty swallowing and speaking. Vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems may also occur. Treatment for botulism requires an antitoxin and, in some cases, mechanical ventilation for weeks or even months. Without appropriate treatment, the disease can be fatal, with deaths occurring in roughly 5 to 10 percent of cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Foodborne botulism is most likely to result from homemade canned, preserved or fermented foods, where inexpert preparation has enabled bacterial contamination. However, in the Moscow case the cook from the bean-producing company Savon-K had prepared and packaged the suspected beans in violation of safety requirements in order to cut costs, Russia's Investigative Committee said.

Newsweek has reached out to the Investigative Committee for further comment via email.

Investigative actions are being carried out with the general director and head of quality at food delivery service LocalKitchen, which produced the salads that are thought to have contained the contaminated beans, as well as the head of Savon-K.

"The investigation is deciding on the measure of restraint," the committee said in a statement.

The products thought to contain the contaminated beans have been recalled. As of Friday, no deaths have been reported by officials.

Is there a health problem that's worrying you? Let us know via [email protected]. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured in Newsweek.

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