Botulism (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Is botulism neurotoxin really considered to be a potential biological weapon?

Yes. However, the neurotoxin rapidly inactivates when exposed to air and is relatively unstable even in liquid formulations in contrast to other disease agents like organisms that cause anthrax. Even with these drawbacks, the neurotoxin has been used sporadically in attempts to harm or kill individuals. Botulinum toxin could be used to contaminate food supplies, but some experts suggest that dissemination of the toxin as an aerosol would be more effective. During the Gulf War, Iraq reportedly produced 20,000 L of botulinum toxin and used 12,000 L for field-testing and to fill warheads, but the shells were not used. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan tried and failed three times to use the toxin as an aerosol weapon. Scientists in Russia also have experimented with botulinum toxin as a weapon. These situations are described in detail in the literature that discusses chemical and biological warfare.

Why are botulism neurotoxins used as cosmetic treatments or treatments for some medical conditions?

Interestingly, purified and highly diluted botulism toxin is being used to treat conditions that are characterized by abnormal muscle contractions. (Some examples of these conditions are torticollis, spasmodic dysphonia, achalasia, strabismus, oromandibular dystonia, cervical dystonia, and blepharospasm.)

Wrinkles are caused by repeated normal muscle muscle contractions, no wrinkles. Consequently, many people elect to have an FDA-approved formulation of the dilute toxin injected to reduce or stop wrinkles in the skin. This wrinkle treatment was first approved by the FDA in 2002. Possible side effects of this treatment include bruising, ptosis (abnormal drooping of a body part, especially the eyelid), nausea, and dysphasia (difficulty with speech), but other side effects may also occur. The last reference listed below shows pictures of frown line treatment with BOTOX.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease


Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program. <>.

Kedlaya, Divakara. "Botulinum Toxin." Apr. 25, 2012. <>.

Patel, Bhupendra. "Ophthalmologic Manifestations of Botulism." Feb. 15, 2012. <>.

Schlessinger, Joel. "Botox Injections." July 17, 2012. <>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Botulism." May 21, 2008. <>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Facts About Botulism." Oct. 6, 2006. <>.

Wenhma, Tim, and Andrew Cohen. "Botulism." Medscape. June 27, 2008. <>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/7/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Botulism - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with botulism?
Botulism - Diagnosis Question: How was your botulism diagnosed?
Botulism - Causes Question: If you were diagnosed with botulism, what do you suspect caused your illness?
Botulism - Early Signs or Symptoms Question: What were the earliest signs or symptoms of botulism in you or someone you know?
Botulism - Cosmetic and Medical Treatments Question: Have you been treated with botulism neurotoxins for cosmetic or medical treatments? What are your concerns?
Botulism - Treatment Question: What kinds of medical treatment did you or someone you know receive for botulism?