ARS TECHNICA – Health officials in Europe are warning of an outbreak of botulism linked to botched weight loss procedures carried out in Turkey that aimed to paralyze stomach muscles to reduce appetite. So far, authorities have identified 67 cases – 53 in Turkey, 12 in Germany, and one each in Austria and Switzerland.
Botulism is a life-threatening neuroparalytic condition caused by the botulinum toxin, which is made by the bacterial species Clostridium botulinum.
There a several forms of botulism, but in this outbreak, the cases are a form called iatrogenic botulism, which occurs when too much toxin is injected during medical procedures.
Iatrogenic botulism is associated with generalized muscle weakness, drooping eyes, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing.
The cases in the outbreak have ranged from mild to severe, with a number of people ending up in intensive care, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported.
Patients coordinated their risky medical tourism via WhatsApp
The botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous natural substances known; a dose of just 1 nanogram per kilogram weight is lethal. Nevertheless, it has been used for cosmetic purposes, such as smoothing facial wrinkles, and some therapeutic purposes, such as treating an overactive bladder and chronic migraine headaches.
It has also been used in the stomach for weight loss purposes, though studies on this application have been mixed in terms of efficacy. The idea is that the toxin paralyzes stomach muscles, slowing down digestion and how quickly the stomach empties.
This is intended to keep people feeling full longer, leading to reduced appetite for as long as the toxin’s effects last, which can be around three months. The injection is carried out using an endoscope, a tube-like device, that is equipped with a syringe to inject the toxin directly into the stomach muscle after snaking down the mouth and throat.
But things go badly when too much botulism is injected, as appears to be the case in Turkey. Officials in Europe traced the cases in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to a single clinic in Istanbul.
The cases in Turkey also link to that clinic, except for three that were traced to a private hospital in Izmir, Turkey. The ECDC noted that European patients coordinated their risky medical tourism via a WhatsApp group.