Foodborne botulism is a life-threatening, rapidly progressive disease. It has an incidence of less than 10 cases per year in Germany and mostly affects several previously healthy people at the same time. The only specific treatment is the administration of botulism antitoxin. According to the German guidelines administration of antitoxin is recommended only in the first 24 hours after oral ingestion of the toxin.
A 47-year-old white woman and her 51-year-old white husband presented with paralysis of multiple cranial nerves and rapidly descending paralysis approximately 72 hours after ingestion of home-canned beans. The disease was complicated by autonomic changes like hypertension, febrile temperatures, and a paralytic ileus. The diagnosis was confirmed by identification of botulinum neurotoxin type A in the serum of the woman. In accordance with the German guidelines, antitoxin was not given due to the prolonged time interval at diagnosis. Both patients had a long intensive care unit course requiring ventilation for approximately 5 months. Finally they recovered completely.
A full recovery from foodborne botulism is possible even in patients with intensive care lasting several months. There are only case reports indicating that administration of antitoxin may shorten the course of the disease, even if given later than 24 hours after intoxication. Due to the rarity of the disease and its rapid course there are no randomized controlled trials. Thus, evidence of the superiority of this treatment is lacking. However, the prevailing view according to the German guidelines to administer antitoxin only within 24 hours after ingestion of the toxin should be questioned in the case of progression of the disease with proof of remaining toxin in the blood.
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