One suspected case of botulism was reported to the City of Amarillo Department of Public Health (DPH) last Friday afternoon. During the subsequent investigation over the weekend, three additional possible cases were discovered. Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by a bacterium and is typically contracted by ingesting a food containing botulism toxin. Left untreated, botulism can be fatal.
The signs and symptoms of botulism can include:
• Difficulty swallowing
• Double or blurry vision
• Slurred speech
• Heavy or droopy eyelids
• Muscle weakness progressing from head to toe
Each of the four identified cases remains hospitalized. Treatment for botulism can include the administration of botulism antitoxin. So far, two patients have met the treatment criteria and received the botulism antitoxin. They are improving slowly. All four patients know at least one of the other ill patients; three have had social contact at a local residence. No definitive link between the cases and a specific restaurant, workplace, school or church has been identified. Nor has any specific food or contaminant been identified to date. Because the source of the toxin is still unknown, we are asking doctors and patients to watch for these signs and symptoms so that we can respond promptly to potential additional cases.
The City of Amarillo DPH and Environmental Health (EH) continue to investigate these cases and are communicating daily with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Earlier this week, DPH and EH submitted food, environmental, and clinical samples for testing to state and federal laboratories. Test results are expected in the next few days. Please contact your doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, especially if the symptoms are worsening.
Physicians and other health care providers who have patients that fit the criteria for botulism are asked to report the cases to the City of Amarillo Department of Public Health immediately by calling Carrie Carlton: 378-6327 or Amber Sable: 378-6340. You may also fax information to 378-6306.
Dr. Roger Smalligan, MD MPH