67 patients develop botulism from Turkish ‘stomach botox’: officials

67 patients develop botulism from Turkish ‘stomach botox’: officials

European health officials issued a warning this week after more than 60 people came down with botulism following a risky weight loss procedure in Turkey.

Sixty-seven individuals across Turkey, Germany, Austria and Switzerland contracted botulism between late February and March 10, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Monday.

Sixty of those cases have been linked to a private hospital in Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey, where patients reportedly received intragastric injections of botulism neurotoxin (BoNT), the European Union agency explained.

“Stomach botox” has been endorsed by some as a viable weight loss treatment.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Intragastric BoNT injections, or “stomach botox,” temporarily relax the muscles and suppress appetite by slowing stomach emptying. One 2021 study involving patients waiting for more invasive bariatric surgery indicated the procedure was “an effective and safe” way to achieve moderate weight loss.

The ECDC, however, warned the public against the procedure in Turkey, stating that it carries a “significant risk of developing botulism,” or muscle paralysis caused by overexposure to the toxin.

While it is unclear whether the botulism is tied to the hospitals’ practices or an issue with the products, the agency said that an investigation revealed that the BoNT used in the procedures was licensed but not approved for intragastric injection.

A microscopic view of the toxin.
Botulinum bacillus is a bacterium that secretes botox, a toxin that inhibits the neurons responsible for muscle contraction.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Toxicities following cosmetic treatment can include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty in swallowing, and dry mouth,” the officials advised.

Several of the 67 patients were admitted to intensive care units.

The botulism outbreak is not the first time medical tourism in Turkey has made headlines. Last year, a TikToker shared a video of her experience traveling to the country to get veneers that turned out to be crowns.

In the clip titled “worst pain of my life,” Anya, 19, insisted that the procedure was the “best decision” despite the initial discomfort.

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