139 people in Russia seek medical help with botulism symptoms. Ready-to-eat salads may be to blame

MOSCOW — At least 139 people in Russia have sought medical assistance with symptoms of botulism over the past few days, authorities said Monday, an outbreak that could be linked to ready-to-eat salads.

Foodborne botulism is a rare illness caused by a toxin produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Eating foods contaminated with the toxin can cause paralysis, breathing difficulties and sometimes death. Improperly canned, preserved or fermented foods are common sources.

Symptoms typical of botulism can include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, a dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing or speaking, and neurological symptoms.

In Moscow, 121 sought medical help with suspected botulism, the city’s deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova was quoted as saying on Monday by Russia’s state news agency Tass. She added that 55 of those affected are in serious condition, 30 of them in intensive care.

Twelve people sought medical help for suspected botulism in Nizhny Novgorod, a city about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow. Nine of them were in serious condition, according to the regional health ministry.

Six people were hospitalized with botulism symptoms in Kazan, a city about 700 kilometers (440 miles) east of Moscow.

Health officials appear to have linked at least some of the cases in Moscow to two brands of ready-made salads. Russia’s public health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, halted the sale of the salads pending investigation on Saturday, after the first cases of poisoning have been reported.

A popular food delivery service, Kukhnya Na Rayone, which operates in Moscow, Kazan and several other cities, had one of the salads on the menu. It suspended operations over the weekend, saying in an online statement that it no longer offered the salad, which had canned beans in it, and would inspect other food on offer as well.

The Kazan branch of Rospotrebnadzor, as well as the Nizhny Novgorod health ministry, said those hospitalized in the two cities ate the salad made by Kukhnya Na Rayone.

Authorities did not definitively say whether the salads were indeed contaminated with botulism. A criminal investigation was underway.

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