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FAQs - "B" Agents

  • If you believe you have been exposed to a biological or chemical agent, or you have received a bioterrorism threat, please call 911.
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Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B (SEB)

What is Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B?

Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B (SEB) is one of several toxins produced by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The toxin commonly causes unintentional outbreaks of food poisoning.

How is SEB spread?

SEB thrives in unrefrigerated meats, dairy, and bakery products. Therefore, SEB is generally transmitted by eating contaminated foods. If SEB were used as a biological weapon, it could be aerosolized and thus inhaled. It is not possible to spread SEB from person-to-person.

What are the symptoms of SEB exposure?

Symptoms differ depending on the type of exposure. After eating contaminated foods, symptoms with usually start within 4-10 hours and include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms of inhaled SEB include a sudden high fever (103º F. to 106º F.), chills, headache, muscle aches, and a dry cough and will usually appear within 3-12 hours after breathing in SEB.

How is SEB exposure diagnosed?

SEB is initially diagnosed based on symptoms. Laboratory confirmations can be made by testing blood and urine samples.

How is the illness treated?

Usually treatment of foodborne disease is not needed, other than taking steps to prevent or treat dehydration. For respiratory distress from inhaled SEB, ventilation may be required.

What can be done to prevent SEB food poisoning?

By properly preparing meat products and using appropriate refrigeration techniques to store meat and dairy products you can greatly reduce your risk of SEB food poisoning. It is also important to wash your hands before preparing or serving foods and after handling raw meat.

Why are we concerned about SEB as a biological weapon?

We know that in the past SEB has been studied as a biological weapon and even stockpiled by the United States during its old biological weapons program, which ended in 1969. SEB is considered an effective biological weapon because it can be easily aerosolized and is very stable. Though death is possible after exposure to large amounts of the toxin, fatalities are rare. Since SEB is much more likely to cause illness that death, it is classified as an “incapacitating agent.”

Is a vaccine available for SEB?

No vaccine or antitoxin is available to treat SEB before or after exposure.

Find the PDF version of this FAQ in the Zebra Manual.