In April, it made its way into the nacho cheese at one Sacramento, California, gas station, killing one and sickening nine other consumers, Righting Injustice reports. North Korean officials, according to USA Today, claim it is what ailed Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-state acts, before he was transferred back to the U.S. in June, where he became comatose and died days later.
It is botulism, or the toxin produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the number of foodborne botulism poisoning cases is on the rise.
The CDC’s botulism surveillance report shows that the percentage of reported foodborne botulism poisoning cases in 2015 was the highest it’s been in the last four years. Foodborne illnesses in 2015 accounted for 39 percent of the 199 confirmed and 14 probable cases of botulism poisoning, jumping from the previous high of 16 percent in 2012.
Although rare, it can be fatal. It is one of the world’s most lethal toxins. The New York Times notes that only a pint could wipe out the entire global population. Emile Pierre van Ermengem, Professor of bacteriology at the University of Ghent, identified the pathogen following a botulism outbreak in a small Belgian village in 1895, according to National Center for Biotechnology Information.
It is produced when the bacteria are exposed to certain conditions – low-level or no oxygen and low acidity. These conditions occur most frequently in canned foods, requiring food processing manufacturers and home canners to use extreme heat to kill the bacteria and its spores. It attacks the nervous system causing paralysis to begin from 12 to 36 hours after consumption. Symptoms can also include vomiting, nausea, blurred vision and difficulty swallowing.
The CDC explains that patients with botulism poisoning must receive an antitoxin and those experiencing severe respiratory distress may also require a ventilator, temporarily.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The New York Times
National Center for Biotechnology Information