Tea made from deer antlers may cause botulism; health officials issue alert


Tea made from deer antlers may have sickened two Orange County residents with botulism, a serious illness caused by a bacteria that can cause paralysis, breathing difficulty and is potentially deadly.

One adult has a confirmed case of botulism, and the other has a suspected case, the Orange County Health Care Agency said Friday. An investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggests the botulism illnesses may be connected with drinking deer antler tea obtained in March.

Health officials said anyone who purchased products in March should dispose of them. Photographs of the package released by L.A. County health officials feature illustrations of deer and roots.


Botulism is an illness caused by a toxin made by a bacterium. Symptoms of the illness include:

  • weakness
  • double vision
  • blurred vision
  • drooping eyelids
  • slurred speech
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dry mouth
  • muscle weakness.

Without medical attention, a person with botulism can begin to suffer paralysis of the respiratory muscles, arms, leg and trunk. In severe cases, patients may need to be hooked up to a machine to help them breathe for weeks or months.

Illness generally begins between 18 to 36 hours after consuming the contaminated food or beverage, but symptoms can begin to show up as soon as 6 hours to as long as 10 days later.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says anyone with symptoms that suggest botulism should speak to a healthcare provider or go to the emergency room. An antitoxin is available that can prevent worsening of paralysis if administered before paralysis is complete.

Survivors of botulism poisoning can suffer from fatigue and shortness of breath for years and may need long-term therapy, according to the CDC. In rare cases, botulism can cause death from respiratory failure, or from infections or other complications related to paralysis.

Public health officials consider a single case of botulism a public health emergency, because it might foretell a larger outbreak, according to the CDC.


The largest U.S. botulism outbreak in 40 years struck in 2015, caused by potatoes in a salad that were improperly canned at home and served at a church potluck in Ohio’s Fairfield County, just east of Columbus. One person died of respiratory failure after arriving at the emergency room.

Of the 77 people who ate at the potluck, 25 were confirmed to have contracted botulism, and four more probably had the illness. The CDC had to rush doses of the antitoxin from its Strategic National Stockpile to Ohio so the patients could be treated.

The CDC determined that the person who prepared the potato salad used a boiling water canner that does not kill spores of the bacterium that causes botulism. A pressure canner, on the other hand, does eliminate the spores. The canned potatoes also were not heated after removal from the can, which would have killed the toxin.




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