Sunday, April 16, 2017

Scary Disease of the Week: Botulism

A series of blog posts upon the occasion of the release of my pandemic thriller Crow Vector.

#4 Botulism.

Clostridium botulinum from Wikipedia

Until I researched various weaponizable diseases for my novel 41 Days, I didn’t know how bad this was. Now I have something new to be terrified of!

It isn’t new, of course. As a child I was told about it. Home-canned foods are the most frequent source in industrialized nations, though there is wound botulism too and rare cases of inhalation botulism with lab workers. Certain sorts of health-food eating make it more likely you’ll get this disease: home fermented foods, non-pasteurized fruit juices, and the like have never been proven by science to do you any good, and if you’re dead from botulism, they definitely didn’t do you any good.

It’s not transmissible in the same sense all of the other scary diseases I chose are. It’s from a bacteria, but it’s not the bacteria itself that infects you and directly makes you ill, as with the plague. It’s a waste product of the bacteria produced in anaerobic conditions that gets you: the botulism toxin.

The disease qualifies as scary because of how sick it makes you: blurred vision is often the earliest symptom, then nausea, vomiting, increasingly painful cramps, seizures, paralysis of the face, and eventually the paralysis spreads downward to your chest so that you can’t breathe.

In the 21st century, there are treatments, and as a result not even 5% of people with it will die in places like Canada and Australia and the U.S. But where people don’t have access to those treatment or are too poor to afford them, it's 50% of people: also scary. For my prepper fans who believe that one day a SHTF scenario actually will come to pass, I’m betting you’re not going to have a lot of botulism antitoxin on hand, so you’re back up to the 50% fatality rate in those circumstances. And you'll probably be canning food at home so be at increased risk anyway.

Furthermore, it is weaponizable, which also kicked up its scariness score to put it at #4 on my list. USAMRIID and other biodefense labs around the world think this is important enough that they are working on defenses against that possibility.

Stay tuned for scary diseases of the week #3, #2, and #1

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