Head | Emergency Medicine | Botulism (Disease)


Botulism is a rare, life-threatening form of poisoning caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria in which the bacterial toxin in food damages the nervous system, causing paralysis.

The symptoms of botulism appear very suddenly, 8-36 hours after eating contaminated food. In adults, symptoms may include: abdominal cramps; breathing difficulty that may lead to respiratory failure; difficulty swallowing and speaking; dry mouth; nausea; vomiting; double vision; weakness with paralysis equal on both sides of the body. Symptoms in infants may include: weak cry; poor feeding and weak sucking; constipation; respiratory distress; weakness, loss of muscle tone.

Complications that can accrue are: aspiration pneumonia and infection; respiratory distress; long-lasting weakness; nervous system problems.

Causes and Risk factors

The foods most commonly contaminated are home-canned vegetables, cured pork and ham, smoked or raw fish, and honey or corn syrup. Botulism may also occur if the bacteria enter open wounds and produce toxins there. Babies may develop botulism after being given contaminated honey or corn syrup.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Botulism needs immediate treatment in with antitoxin drugs. Physicians may try to remove contaminated food still in the gut by inducing vomiting or by using enemas. For people whose breathing is affected, mechanical ventilation may be necessary. Patients who have trouble swallowing may get intravenous fluids.

Prevention of the intoxication involves pressure-cook home-preserved food for at least 30 minutes at 120°C (250°F) and ensuring that all containers are sterilized. Babies under the age of 12 months should not be given honey. ...