Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Outbreak of a worrisome form of botulism in Thailand

There has been an outbreak of botulism in the north east of Thailand, in Nan province. The strain is the same strain as is used to make biological weapons. Seems odd if it's purely a coincidence.
Foreign health experts look into outbreak of botulism


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has dispatched experts to investigate food poisoning in Nan province after finding the bacteria causing the outbreak is the same strain used to make biological weapons, the Disease Control Department said yesterday.

Almost 170 villagers from Ban Luang district were admitted to the provincial hospital last week after eating tinned bamboo shoots and developing botulism, a form of food poisoning caused by the clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Seventy-seven patients are being treated in the hospital, and 39 of them are in a coma.

The US health experts were closely monitoring the patients' conditions, Disease Control Department chief Thawat Sundracharn said at a press conference yesterday.

"The CDC is eager to study the ... outbreak in order to strengthen the US preparedness for a biological weapons attack," said Dr Thawat.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria, anthrax and smallpox were the three major components of biological weapons at the moment, he added.

The US infectious disease experts had brought with them 50 doses of anti-toxin serum to try to cure the patients. Britain and Canada had also donated 30 doses of the serum to Nan hospital.

However, he said, the ministry would acquire additional serum from Japan to prepare for any fresh outbreak.

Thailand did not stockpile the serum because usually the number of cases per year was small, Dr Thawat said, adding that the large number in the Nan outbreak was unprecedented.

Dr Thawat said people could develop symptoms of botulism within 12-36 hours of contact with the bacteria. Symptoms include blurred vision, a dry mouth, nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness leading to limb paralysis. In serious cases, the patient would suffer respiratory system failure, a major cause of death among patients with botulism.

A person could contact the disease through a wound or by eating contaminated food.

The department had so far destroyed all 70 locally-produced tins of bamboo shoots to prevent the disease spreading further, said Dr Thawat. A team of medics investigating the disease outbreak suspected that the villagers' unhygienic production of tinned bamboo shoots was the cause of the food poisoning.

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