Botox has been in the news again – but not in a good way. Botox is purified toxin that is taken from the bacteria that cause botulism. I heard on the news that the government is worried about Botox being used in bioterrorism.
Is that possible?
It turns out that the toxin that makes up Botox, called botulinum toxin, can be made fairly easily by rogue laboratories. And that toxin is very powerful – potentially deadly if put in our food supply.
But let's think about this for a minute. Botox toxin can’t penetrate the skin unless it is injected, so how could it hurt us if we eat it? It turns out that the toxin actually protects itself in our guts by hiding behind a protector protein. This allows the toxins to be absorbed right into our bloodstream through our stomach and intestines, and this can be deadly. It turns out that botulinum toxin can indeed be used as a bioweapon. But with purified toxin, and without the bacteria that causes an infection, the illness caused by eating the toxin may be less severe than true botulism from contaminated food.
Each year a couple of dozen people in the U.S. die from botulism. The most common food threats are home-canned or home-processed foods like vegetables and fish.
What’s the treatment? Antibiotics and antitoxins.
All this discussion about Botox as a bioweapon gets people a little nervous. And along with smallpox and a whole zoo of other microorganisms, the government is rightfully concerned, but has been preparing for things like this for over a decade.
And don’t worry – you can’t get botulism from the cosmetic injection of Botox.