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Beauty Therapy: Dying to look young
About the author: 

All is not well in the beauty business

All is not well in the beauty business. Beauticians and cosmetic surgeons mess about with the bacterium that causes botulism in order to reduce clients' wrinkles and give them that much sought-after stretched look.

This is one of the few happy by-products of the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. Aside from getting rid of wrinkles, it can also cause a paralytic disease that may result in respiratory failure and death.

So it's not especially surprising to learn that sometimes it all goes terribly wrong. Investigators followed the trail to one beauty parlour after four of its clients were diagnosed with botulism. The beautician had mixed his own concoction of botulism toxin A, the only licensed preparation of the toxin. Unfortunately, he decided to give it a little extra oomph, and the dose he created for those pesky wrinkles was up to 2,857 times the lethal dose. Had a single vial escaped into the community, it would have killed around 14,286 adults.

Extraordinarily, the four patients survived, and the doctor spent five months in an oxygen tent. After he recovered, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006; 296: 2476-9).


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