Botulinum Toxin—Biological Weapon
DefinitionBotulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known to man. Even a small amount is lethal. Bacteria in the Clostridium genus produce it. 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.
CausesBotulinum toxin poses a great threat. It is easy to produce and transport. Only one gram of the toxin evenly released and inhaled could kill one 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|
|Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.|
Risk FactorsFactors 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
SymptomsExperts predict symptoms from an airborne bioterrorism attack would begin 12-72 hours after exposure. Symptoms from a food attack could start within two hours or as long as eight 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
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