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May 16, 2024 | Originally published by DTRA / DVIDS on April 24, 2024

A fast-acting, broad-spectrum therapeutic can treat the Joint Force after exposure to one of the most dangerous neurotoxins.

A new, fast-acting treatment is being developed for botulism—an intoxication caused by botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) and one of the deadliest biological substances known. BoNT is a serious threat to the Joint Force through exposure to any of numerous BoNT toxin-producing environmental bacteria that contaminate food or infect battle wounds. BoNT can be inhaled if aerosolized during an explosion into contaminated soil or during an intentional attack.

BoNTs act by blocking the release of acetylcholine, the principal neurotransmitter at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), resulting in muscle weakness that rapidly progresses to paralysis. Within 12 to 72 hours after exposure, BoNT causes symptoms such as blurred vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty in swallowing, talking, or breathing, and muscle weakness. Weakened or paralyzed muscles involved in breathing, primarily the diaphragm, can cause respiratory distress and death. Depending on the BoNT dose, muscle paralysis can last from weeks to months until BoNT is degraded or excreted, and nerve damage heals in the paralyzed muscles.

In the United States, botulism patients experiencing difficulty in breathing or respiratory distress are treated promptly using a forced oxygen mask or assisted mechanical ventilation with intravenous nutritional supplements, as needed, for long periods.

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