The seven serotypes of botulinum toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum are the most toxic substances known. They are associated with lethal food poisoning after the consumption of canned foods. This family of toxins was evaluated by the United States as a potential biological weapon in the 1960s and is believed to be an agent that could be used against our troops. Unlike other threat toxins, botulinum neurotoxin appears to cause the same disease after inhalation, oral ingestion, or injection. Death results from skeletal muscle paralysis and resultant ventilatory failure. Because of its extreme toxicity, the toxin typically cannot be identified in body fluids, other than nasal secretions, after inhalation of a lethal dose. The best diagnostic sample for immunologic identification of the toxin is from swabs taken from the nasal mucosa within 24 hours after inhalational exposure. Because of the small quantity of toxin protein needed to kill, botulinum toxin exposure does not typically induce an antibody response after exposure. Prophylactic administration of a licensed pentavalent vaccine fully protects laboratory animals from all routes of challenge. Passive immunotherapy with investigational hyperimmune plasma also prevents illness if it is administered before the onset of clinical intoxication.
Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, p. 643-654