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Biological Warfare (cont.)

Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B

Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) is one of the best-studied and, therefore, best-understood toxins.

Staphylococcal enterotoxin is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea normally occur after someone eats or drinks contaminated food.

The toxin creates different symptoms when exposure is through the air in a biological warfare situation. Only a small, inhaled dose is necessary to harm people within 24 hours of inhalation.

Signs and Symptoms

After exposure, signs and symptoms begin in two to 12 hours. Mild-to-moderate exposure to SEB produces fever, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, chest pain, body aches, and a nonproductive cough. Severe exposures can lead to a toxic shock-type picture and even death. Depending on the severity of exposure, the illness may last three to 10 days.


Diagnosis of SEB can be difficult. Laboratory tests and a chest X-ray may be performed. Nasal swabs may show the toxin for 12-24 hours after exposure.


Doctors provide care to relieve symptoms. Close attention to oxygenation and hydration are important. People with severe SEB may need help breathing with a ventilator. Most victims are expected to do well after the initial phase, but the time to full recovery may be long.


No approved human vaccine exists for SEB, although human trials are ongoing. Passive immunotherapy agents have demonstrated some promise when given within four hours of exposure, but such therapy is still being tested.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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