Frontlines | Botulism from Blubber


Botulism, usually associated with eating improperly canned foods, get its name from the Latin botulus for sausage, a source when the illness was first described in Europe in the late 19th century. A recent report chronicles another source and route: consuming raw beached marine mammals (J. Middaugh et al., "Outbreak of botulism type E associated with eating a beached whale - Western Alaska, July 2002," Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep, 52:24-6, Jan. 17, 2003).

In mid-July 2002, public health officials investigated a cluster of native Alaskans with the telltale signs of botulism, including dry mouth, blurred vision, swallowing difficulties, and progressive paralysis. The villagers, who lived on the west coast near the Bering Sea, had recently feasted on "muktuk," the skin and pink blubber layer from an adult beluga whale that had beached itself weeks earlier. After refrigerating muktuk hunks in plastic bags for...

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