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What is Botulism?

Botulism is a paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum and sometimes by strains of Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium baratii.  

Types of Botulism and Causes

  • Foodborne botulism: Caused by eating foods containing the botulinum toxin. Most frequently from improperly canned homemade food.
  • Wound botulism: Caused by a wound infected by Clostridium botulinum. Normally found in drug users.
  • Infant botulism: Happens when an infant consumes spores with the bacteria. It grows in the intestine and releases toxins.
  • Adult Intestinal Toxemia: Very rare. Develops in the same way as infant botulism.
  • Iatrogenic botulism: occurs from overdose of bolulinum toxin.

Symptoms

In adults:

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

In infants:

  • lethargy
  • no appetite
  • constipation
  • weak cry
  • poor muscle tone

Symptoms generally occur between 18 and 36 hours but can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days.

Treatment

  • For severe paralysis or respiratory failure, a ventilator and medical care may be required. Paralysis slowly improves.
  • Antitoxins
  • Vomiting/enemas
  • Surgical removal of botulism in wounds

Threats

Botulism can cause death if left untreated. Over the past 50 years, patients that die from botulism has decreased from 50% to 3-5%. Patients may require a breathing machine and extensive medical care for months. Paralysis can last weeks or months. Fatigue and shortness of breath can last years.

Prevention

  • Foodborne botulism: Follow proper home-canning guidelines and prepare food safely.
  • Wound botulism: Seek medical care for infected wounds. Avoid injectable street drugs.
  • Infant botulism: Prevention is harder, because infants can contract botulism through dirt and dust. Refrain from giving children under 1 year old honey, which could cause botulism.

For more information on botulism, visit http://www.cdc.gov/botulism/index.html.

For more information on safe home-canning methods, visit http://www.cdc.gov/botulism/consumer.html.