Botulism - including symptoms, treatment and prevention
Botulism is an illness caused by botulinum toxin or other similar toxins. Botulinum toxin is made by Clostridium botulinum bacteria and some other similar bacteria. The bacteria are widespread in the environment as spores. Spores are dormant forms of bacteria which are resistant to heat and drying. Under specific conditions, the spores of the bacteria germinate and make toxin.
Botulism is a notifiable condition1
How botulism is spread
Botulism may occur in several ways:
Foodborne botulism may result from eating food contaminated with the toxin. This may be from poorly processed canned or bottled low acid foods, fermented foods or lightly preserved foods.
Infant botulism results from the germination of ingested spores (for example, from honey or soil) inside the bowels of infants.
Intestinal botulism results from the germination of ingested spores inside the bowels of people with altered bowel bacteria.
Wound botulism results from spore contamination of dirty wounds or in illicit injecting drug use (see image).
Iatrogenic botulism may occur due to accidental injection into the blood stream of commercial botulinum toxin (for example, Botox®, Dysport® or Xeomin®).
Inhalational botulism does not occur naturally but would result from breathing in toxin used as a biological weapon.
Image courtesy Public Health Image Library (PHIL), Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-USA)
Signs and symptoms of botulism
Symptoms may include:
paralysis of the muscles which move the eyes
One to ten percent of persons with botulism die as a result.
As well as the symptoms listed above, symptoms of foodborne botulism may include:
In infants the following symptoms may occur:
poor head control (see image)
Diagnosis of botulism
The diagnosis is made from the history and signs and symptoms of infection (clinical features).
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