Russian Authorities Arrest 3 People After Dozens Are Hospitalized With Botulism Symptoms

Russian authorities on Tuesday detained three people in connection with a suspected botulism outbreak, a move that comes after dozens of people in four different regions have been hospitalized with symptoms of the rare and dangerous disease.

Officials link the outbreak to ready-to-eat salads made by a popular delivery service. Russia's top investigations agency, the Investigative Committee, said Tuesday that authorities detained two top managers of the delivery service and a head of a company that produces canned beans as part of a criminal inquiry on charges of making and distributing products in violation of safety standards. It wasn't immediately clear from the statement if the three have been charged or placed in custody.

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 people have sought medical help with suspected botulism, Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said Monday. She added that 55 of those affected are in serious condition, with 30 of them in intensive care.

In the outlying Moscow region, 20 people, including 12 in serious condition, have been hospitalized with a preliminary diagnosis of botulism, local health officials told Russian news agency Interfax on Tuesday.

A total of 14 people diagnosed with botulism were in hospitals in the Nizhny Novgorod region about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow, the region's branch of the public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor reported on Tuesday.

Fourteen more people have been hospitalized with botulism in Kazan, a city about 700 kilometers (440 miles) east of Moscow, according to a local branch of Rospotrebnadzor.

Health officials initially linked at least some of the cases in Moscow to two brands of ready-made salads. Rospotrebnadzor halted the sale of the salads pending investigation on Saturday, after the first cases of poisoning were reported.

By Tuesday, it appeared that the authorities were only looking at one of the two salads, made and sold by popular delivery service Kukhnya Na Rayone, which operates in Moscow, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and several other cities. Kukhnya Na Rayone 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 it makes as well.

Rospotrebnadzor on Tuesday evening pointed to Kuhnya Na Rayone's salad and beans used in it as the culprit, saying in an online statement that it seized over 172 tons of the product.

A criminal investigation has been launched, and Kukhnya Na Rayone director Anton Lozin; the head of its quality department, Yelena Mashkova, and Vladimir Shin; head of Savon-K, a company that makes canned beans, have been arrested, according to the Investigative Committee.