Detection and Response

If the toxin that causes botulism were used as a biological weapon in the United States, public health authorities might first learn about the attack when doctors begin to see patients with symptoms of botulism in the emergency room. Doctors report all patients suspected of having botulism to their state health department officials, who notify CDC.

CDC works with state and local public health authorities wherever there are people with botulism. CDC and state health department officials would investigate the event that caused people to be exposed to the toxin. They would work as needed with agencies dealing with food safety (including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), water safety (including the Environmental Protection Agency), and law enforcement.

Some of the ways CDC would respond to an emergency caused by a biological attack include:

  • Alerting doctors and other medical providers about the possibility that patients with certain symptoms might have botulism.
  • Consulting with doctors to help them diagnose and treat patients with botulism.
  • Sending out teams of disease detectives (epidemiologists) to talk to people who have botulism or their family members. By asking questions, CDC would try to learn how people were exposed to the toxin. This investigation would help CDC find the source of the toxin to prevent more illnesses, and find other people who might have been exposed to the toxin and get them the help they need.
  • Working with the Laboratory Response Network to coordinate lab testing to diagnose patients quickly and accurately.
  • Coordinating activities within CDC and with other partners, such as food safety agencies and law enforcement, through the Emergency Operations Center.
  • Communicating to inform people about the situation, what symptoms to look for, and what to do to protect themselves or get treatment.
  • Working with other federal partners to provide medicine and medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpileexternal icon to state, local, tribal, and territorial partners.