Seven people were admitted to Bordeaux University Hospital on Saturday, September 9, with a rare and potentially serious food poisoning. According to Sud-Ouest, they suffered from botulinum toxin poisoning.
On Tuesday, the Regional Health Agency (ARS) of New Aquitaine said in a press release that six of these patients “have various neurological or digestive symptoms” and were hospitalized to “receive botulinum antitoxic treatment.” Five of them were placed on respiratory support in the intensive care unit, said an intensivist at the Bordeaux University Hospital contacted by actu.fr.
Toxin found in many foods
Botulism is an acute neurological disease caused by an extremely potent toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinium. A press release issued by the Prefect of the Gironde recalls that most cases of botulism in France are associated with food poisoning from eating “canned foods that have not undergone an extensive sterilization process: sausages, cold cuts or even canned products.” or handicraft origin. “This appears to be the case at the Bordeaux establishment, where seven patients apparently consumed canned sardines prepared by the restaurateur at home.
The WHO (World Health Organization) reports that botulinum toxin has been found in a variety of foods, including “low acidic canned vegetables such as green beans, spinach, mushrooms and beets; in fish, especially canned tuna, fermented, salted or smoked fish; and in meat products such as ham and sausage.”
According to the ARS, botulism occurs on average after an incubation period of 12 to 72 hours if it is foodborne. If people who eat the same food have the same symptoms, their severity may vary. This can range from short-term digestive problems to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or even diarrhea.
Paralysis that can lead to death
The ARS also reports risks of eye damage (lack of accommodation as well as blurred vision), neurological symptoms responsible for the risk of aspiration, dry mouth accompanied by problems with swallowing, even speech, as well as more or less severe muscle paralysis. In advanced forms, these symptoms “progress towards descending paralysis of the limbs and respiratory muscles,” the Pasteur Institute notes, pointing out that it is this respiratory failure that leads to death.
Although botulism is fatal in 5–10% of cases, its mortality rate is high if treatment is not started immediately. Treatment of botulism is essentially symptomatic and requires intensive respiratory therapy with mechanical ventilation in severe forms. The vast majority of patients treated promptly recover without sequelae, but treatment and recovery may take several months. The Pasteur Institute states that antibiotics do not work against botulinum toxin and are therefore not prescribed to adults.