Botulinum antitoxin is the only specific therapy for this infection. If given early – preferably within 24-48 hours of symptom onset – it can stop the progression of paralysis. But antitoxin will not reverse existing paralysis. If paralysis is still progressing outside of that 24- to 48-hour window, the antitoxin should still provide benefit. The antitoxin is available only through state health departments and a request to the CDC.
Botulism antitoxin is made from horse serum and therefore may cause a variety of allergic reactions. The risk for anaphylaxis is less than 2%, far lower than the mortality from untreated botulism.
While these guidelines have an important focus on triaging and treating mass casualties from botulism, it’s important to note that food-borne outbreaks and prevention issues are covered elsewhere on the CDC site.
Dr. Edwards has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Adalja is a consultant for Emergent BioSolutions, which makes the heptavalent botulism antitoxin.
Dr. Stone is an infectious disease specialist and author of “Resilience: One Family’s Story of Hope and Triumph Over Evil” and of “Conducting Clinical Research,” the essential guide to the topic. You can find her at drjudystone.com or on Twitter @drjudystone.
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