Objective The Working Group on Civilian Biodefense has developed consensus-based
recommendations for measures to be taken by medical and public health professionals
if botulinum toxin is used as a biological weapon against a civilian population.
Participants The working group included 23 representatives from academic, government,
and private institutions with expertise in public health, emergency management,
and clinical medicine.
Evidence The primary authors (S.S.A. and R.S.) searched OLDMEDLINE and MEDLINE
(1960–March 1999) and their professional collections for literature
concerning use of botulinum toxin as a bioweapon. The literature was reviewed,
and opinions were sought from the working group and other experts on diagnosis
and management of botulism. Additional MEDLINE searches were conducted through
April 2000 during the review and revisions of the consensus statement.
Consensus Process The first draft of the working group's consensus statement was a synthesis
of information obtained in the formal evidence-gathering process. The working
group convened to review the first draft in May 1999. Working group members
reviewed subsequent drafts and suggested additional revisions. The final statement
incorporates all relevant evidence obtained in the literature search in conjunction
with final consensus recommendations supported by all working group members.
Conclusions An aerosolized or foodborne botulinum toxin weapon would cause acute
symmetric, descending flaccid paralysis with prominent bulbar palsies such
as diplopia, dysarthria, dysphonia, and dysphagia that would typically present
12 to 72 hours after exposure. Effective response to a deliberate release
of botulinum toxin will depend on timely clinical diagnosis, case reporting,
and epidemiological investigation. Persons potentially exposed to botulinum
toxin should be closely observed, and those with signs of botulism require
prompt treatment with antitoxin and supportive care that may include assisted
ventilation for weeks or months. Treatment with antitoxin should not be delayed
for microbiological testing.