What is Botulism?

Botulism Definition

Botulism is a dangerous disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum which produces neurotoxins under low oxygen conditions. This toxin is one of the most toxic contaminants to people and even a small amount can cause severe illness or even death. Botulinum toxins block nerve functions and has paralytic symptoms. Botulism can be fatal and any form of it is considered a medical emergency.

Foodborne Botulism is caused by ingesting foods that have been contaminated with the toxin. Improperly processed foods such as home-canned goods and fermented or preserved food are the most common cause of foodborne botulism. Toxins produced by clostridium botulinum are resistant to heat so cooking will not kill them off and they grow rapidly in the absence of oxygen. Botulism cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Botulism Symptoms

Early signs of botulism in adults include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Signs of botulism in infants are:

  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty in feeding
  • Weak crying
  • Poor head control

If you see a combination of the above listed symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Symptoms for infants appear between 3 to 30 days while adults typically have an incubation period of 12 to 72 hours. If left untreated by medical professionals, symptoms may worsen to failure of respiratory muscles and paralysis of limbs.

Botulism Treatment

Diagnosis is determined through interviews between a medical professional and the patient about their recent food intake couples with stool samples to test for the toxin. An antitoxin should be given to the infected individual as soon as it is determined that they have botulism. Severe cases may require that the patient use supporting measures such as respiratory machines to help with breathing.

Botulism Prevention

  • Follow the appropriate steps in properly canning or preserving food at home
  • Keep cooked, baked potatoes hot until serving. Otherwise, keep them refrigerated
  • Do not eat packaged foods that have leaks, cracks or other signs of contamination
  • Boil home-packaged foods such as sauces for 10 minutes before serving