Botulism is a potentially deadly illness that is caused by a toxin produced by a bacterium called
. This bacterium are found in the soil and at the bottom of lakes, streams, and oceans. The intestinal tracts of fish, mammals, crabs, and other shellfish may contain
and its spores. The bacterium's spores can survive in improperly prepared foods.
A very small amount of the botulism toxin can cause illness. People come in contact with this toxin in one of three ways:
Food can be contaminated with the bacteria and its toxin. It is the toxin produced by
itself—that causes botulism in humans. Food that may be contaminated with the toxin include:
If an infant swallows
spores, they will grow in the baby's body and produce the toxin. Unlike adults and older children, infants become sick from toxin produced by bacteria growing in their own intestines. Honey is a prime source of infant botulism. Other sources include soil and dust.
A wound can become infected with the bacteria (rare in the US). The toxin then travels to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
In some cases, the source of the bacteria is unknown.
is also a potential bioterrorism agent.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for botulism include:
Eating improperly canned foods
For infants, consuming honey
Using IV drugs (rare)
Symptoms begin in the face and eyes, and progress down both sides of the body. If left untreated, muscles in the arms, legs, and torso, as well as those used in breathing become paralyzed. Death can occur.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:
When food is the cause of botulism, symptoms usually start within 36 hours of eating the contaminated food. Some people notice symptoms within a few hours. Others may not develop symptoms for several days. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, and
When a wound is the cause of botulism, symptoms start within 4 to 14 days.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Blood, stool, and stomach contents will be tested for the toxin. In infants, stool will also be tested for
. If available, samples of questionable food may also be tested for the toxin and bacteria. A wound culture will be done if wound botulism is suspected.
Tests to rule out other medical conditions may include:
The most serious complication is respiratory failure. Treatment aims to maintain adequate oxygen supply, which may require a ventilator and close monitoring in an intensive care unit. Feeding through a tube may also be necessary.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a