United States expert investigating food poisoning caused by strain used in biological weapons

A U.S. expert is investigating an outbreak of food poisoning in Thailand after a finding that the bacteria that caused it is the same type used in the production of biological weapons, officials said Tuesday.

Last week, 143 people suffered stomach pains, vomiting and muscle weakness after eating fermented bamboo shoots at a temple fair in the northern Thai province of Nan , and 39 remain in critical condition, said Prajaya Boonyawongwiroje of the Public Health Ministry.

An expert from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is in Nan to investigate the outbreak and has brought 50 doses of anti-toxin serum, said Prajaya, the ministry's acting permanent secretary. Britain and Canada also have sent serum.

The serum is used to cure botulism, a form of food poisoning caused by the clostridium botulinum bacteria, one of several types also used in biological weapons. Severe cases of botulism can be fatal.

Thai officials have given no indication that the food poisoning originated from anything else but contaminated food. Cases of botulism are reported in Thailand and across the world each year. The first laboratory-confirmed outbreak of botulism in Thailand was also in the north in 1998, and traced to home-canned bamboo shoots.

Thai officials say U.S. health experts are eager to study such outbreaks of botulism to strengthen preparedness for biological weapons attacks in the United States .

The Thai Cabinet on Tuesday approved a 33 million baht (US$851,000, 701,000 euros) emergency budget to help the victims of the latest outbreak. About half of it will go for the purchase of anti-toxin serum, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters after the meeting, reports the AP.

D.M.