WHO antitoxin shipment to help thinly spread Vietnam treat botulism cases

By Chi Le   September 8, 2020 | 05:16 am PT
WHO antitoxin shipment to help thinly spread Vietnam treat botulism cases
A medical worker holds two bottles of botulism antitoxin imported from Thailand in Hanoi, August 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Chi Le.
The WHO would deliver 10 doses of botulism antitoxin from Switzerland to Vietnam on Tuesday to treat patients poisoned by vegan pate contaminated with botulinum.

The antitoxin would be taken from a World Health Organization (WHO) drug stockpile in Switzerland and delivered to Vietnam as soon as possible, said Tran Thi Giang Huong, director of the WHO’s Division of Programs for Disease Control for the Western Pacific region.

The Ministry of Health would cooperate with the WHO to process necessary procedures to receive the drugs. They would be sent to Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital before being distributed to other medical facilities, including HCMC’s Cho Ray Hospital and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, to treat poisoned cases.

Last month, the WHO sponsored and distributed two botulism antidote bottles, worth $16,000, from Thailand to Hanoi to treat two poisoning cases at Bach Mai Hospital. Following administration, the two patients’ condition have improved.

Botulinum poisoning was detected at multiple hospitals across Vietnam starting July. Investigations revealed that several had consumed vegan pate products from Loi Song Moi Company in Hanoi’s Dong Anh District. Tests on the vegan pate, branded Minh Chay, later showed it contained Clostrodium botulinum, a type of anaerobic bacteria capable of producing strong neurotoxins that block nerve functions and cause paralysis or even death.

Loi Song Moi has been fined VND17.5 million ($755) for failing to meet food safety standards following the incident. Their products are being recalled nationwide. Around 11,800 people had purchased the company's products from July to August, half of these being Minh Chay Pate, according to the Hanoi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

As of Tuesday, 15 poisoned customers have been recorded at hospitals in Hanoi, HCMC, Khanh Hoa, Dong Nai, Long An, Binh Duong and Quang Nam. They experienced symptoms like headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness and paralysis, with many critical cases placed on ventilators. Only the two Bach Mai cases are currently treated with imported antidotes, while the rest are being treated via plasma and physical therapy, etc.

Clostridium botulinum produces toxins under low-oxygen conditions. Consumption of botulinum toxins may result in stomachache, fatigue, muscle pain, blurred vision, a dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing and speaking and droopy eyelids. Symptoms usually appear within 12 to 36 hours, and patients could end up with respiratory failure caused by paralyzed respiratory muscles, or even die.

Vietnam has not recorded any botulinum poisoning cases in over three decades, and so does not have its own supply of antitoxins. Hospitals have since requested the health ministry to import antidotes from outside the country to treat cases of poisoning.

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