Botulinum Toxin—Biological Weapon


Botulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known to man. Even a small amount is lethal. It is produced by a certain bacteria. A number of countries that support terrorism are developing or have the toxin as a germ-warfare weapon. As a weapon, the toxin might be released in the air or placed in the food supply. The toxin causes the disease botulism. In tiny doses, the toxin is injected as a treatment for medical conditions, such as eyelid muscle spasms and migraine headaches.


Botulinum toxin poses a great threat. It is easy to produce and transport. Only 1 gram of the toxin evenly released and inhaled could kill 1 million people. However, it is hard to keep stable for release in the air.Some experts believe it would not work in stopping a military enemy. US troops receive a botulinum toxoid vaccine to prevent the disease if exposed to the toxin. However, release of the toxin in a civilian population would present serious results.Botulinum toxin is colorless and odorless. The toxin cannot be passed from one person to another.
Inhaled Toxin Pathway in Body
Spores in lungs
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of botulism include:
  • Exposure to the toxin after its release during a biological terrorism attack
  • Rarely, accidental exposure to the toxin may occur as a result of food contamination, especially if the contaminated food was not packaged or heated properly


Experts predict symptoms from an airborne bioterrorism attack would begin 12-72 hours after exposure. Symptoms from a food attack could start within 2 hours or as long as 8 days after eating food with the toxin. Severity and speed of onset might vary depending on the amount of toxin absorbed.Symptoms include:
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Weakness in clenching jaw
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Loss of head control
  • Weakness, on both sides, starting at the head and working down the body
  • Constipation
  • Inability to move limbs

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