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Seal Oil with Botulism Strikes 25 in Alaska

Alaska news reports a botulism outbreak in Bristol Bay communities is being closely monitored by state and local health officials. The Department of Epidemiology said Wednesday that at least 25 individuals have so far been linked to a batch of contaminated seal oil produced in the village of Twin Hills. Of the 25, several have been hospitalized, some are being monitored, and health officials are still trying to contact others.

The botulism infections were reported Friday, after two individuals were flown from the village of Quinhagak to Bethel. The two were later medevaced to Anchorage, and remain on respiratory support Wednesday, reportedly unable to breathe on their own. Three others from Quinhagak were treated for symptoms of botulism, and others in Twin Hills and Dillingham have reported symptoms or are being monitored. One child has also shown symptoms of the disease, which can be fatal, according to Dr. Michael Cooper, the Infectious Disease Program Manager at the State Department of Epidemiology.

Botulism is a paralytic illness caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. In Alaska, botulism occurs almost always in fermented or preserved foods like improperly canned fish and stink heads.

Symptoms may appear as early as one day after consuming contaminated food, but could also not appear for up to ten days. Health care officials are urging those who may have eaten some of the contaminated seal oil to seek medical advice, and perhaps plan to be near a medical care facility for observation.