Improperly home-canned green beans sent couple to the hospital with botulism; after 5 months in intensive care, they recovered completely

A married couple from Germany were left paralyzed and fighting for their lives in intensive care for about five months after eating some home-canned green beans. The anonymous husband and wife were diagnosed with botulism, an extremely rare but life-threatening bacterial illness.

Botulism is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria which grow on food and produce lethal neurotoxins. When ingested, these toxins can leave the body in a vegetative state. The same deadly toxin can be found in botox injections, but in much smaller doses to paralyze facial muscles.

The wife suffered dizziness, double vision, drooping eyelids, and struggled to speak when she was admitted to the hospital. However, tests results from CT and MRI found nothing out of the ordinary.

Meanwhile, the wife’s condition only got worse. She couldn’t open her eyes and was paralyzed from the neck down. Her lungs also began to fail, which prompted the doctors to hook her up to a life-support machine. The couple’s son remembered that his parents had eaten home-canned green beans two days prior to the incident.

The husband came to the hospital a day later with the same symptoms, but he was able to walk normally because he reportedly consumed a “smaller amount” of the home-canned green beans.

Meanwhile, the son escaped his parents’ ordeal because he refused to eat the green beans, saying they smelled “off.”

The doctors confirmed that the couple suffered from botulism and put the patients in a five-month intensive care unit course requiring ventilation. They recovered completely after this treatment.

The case report published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports indicated that administering antitoxin may shorten the course of the disease, even if it was given later than 24 hours after intoxication. The study authors concluded that patients can still fully recover from botulism even with long-lasting intensive care for several months.

What is botulism?

Botulism is a rare but lethal illness that is considered a medical emergency. Studies have shown that there is a 35 to 65 percent chance of death for patients who are not given antitoxin treatment immediately and effectively.

Most of the botulism cases reported every year come from improperly home-canned foods. Botulism from commercially canned food is much rarer, but one case of botulism outbreak in 2007 was caused by commercially canned chili products. (Related: Botulism can kill you — are you sure your preserved foods are safe? 8 signs they aren’t.)

Botulism neurotoxins inhibit motor control, paralyzing the patient from top to bottom, starting with the eyes and face and moving to the throat, chest, and extremities. Lung failure occurs when the paralysis reaches the chest, which can lead to death from inability to breathe unless the patient is ventilated.

Symptoms of botulism generally appear one to three days after eating contaminated food. With treatment, the illness may last from one to 10 days. Full recovery from botulism poisoning can take weeks to months. Some people never fully recover and succumb to death.

Infant botulism is the most common form of botulism. In general, symptoms of botulism poisoning include the following:

  • Body aches
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Dry skin, mouth and throat
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of fever
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Paralysis
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting

Meanwhile, symptoms of infant botulism include constipation, drooling, drooping eyelids, lethargy, a weak cry, poor appetite, and paralysis.

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