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Facts About Botulism

Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.

There are three main kinds of botulism:

  • Food borne botulism occurs when a person ingests pre-formed toxin that leads to illness within a few hours to days. Food borne botulism is a public health emergency because the contaminated food may still be available to other persons besides the patient.

  • Infant botulism occurs in a small number of susceptible infants each year who harbor C. botulinum in their intestinal tract.

  • Wound botulism occurs when wounds are infected with C. botulinum that secretes the toxin.

With food borne botulism, symptoms begin within 6 hours to 2 weeks (most commonly between 12 and 36 hour's) after eating toxin-containing food. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, muscle weakness that always descends through the body: first shoulders are affected, then upper arms, lower arms, thighs, calves, etc. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop breathing and die, unless assistance with breathing (mechanical ventilation) is provided.

Botulism is not spread from one person to another. Food borne botulism can occur in all age groups.

A supply of antitoxin against botulism is maintained by CDC. The antitoxin is effective in reducing the severity of symptoms if administered early in the course of the disease. Most patients eventually recover after weeks to months of supportive care.

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