What is Botulism

Botulism is an illness caused by a poison (toxin) that is made by a certain type of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum(C. botulinum). The bacteria make protective coatings that help them survive (spores).

Although they are usually harmless, these spores will create a toxin if they are in certain conditions, such as:

  • Low acid.
  • Low sugar.
  • Low salt.
  • Low or no oxygen (anaerobic environment).
  • Warm temperatures.

The toxin interferes with the way that nerves work in the body. It can make you unable to move your body (paralysis) and can affect your ability to breathe.

7 Interesting Facts of Botulism

  1. Noncontagious form of food poisoning caused by ingestion of contaminated food that contains neurotoxins of Clostridium botulinum; severely affects the neuromuscular junction
  2. Xerostomia, constipation, urinary retention, or other autonomic symptoms
  3. Blurred vision, diplopia, or strabismus
  4. Cranial nerve palsies
  5. Nausea, vomiting, or anorexia
  6. Muscle weakness or descending paralysis
  7. Differentiated with mouse neutralization bioassay by isolating the botulism toxin (and confirming botulism diagnosis)

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by a toxin that is produced by C. botulinumbacteria spores. You may develop this illness by:

  • Eating food that contains the toxin (is contaminated).
  • Having a wound infected with the toxin.
  • Having the bacteria spores in your intestine.
  • Getting too many botulinum toxin injections. These injections may be done for cosmetic reasons, such as for wrinkles.

What increases the risk?

You are more likely to develop this condition if:

  • You eat homemade canned or preserved goods, such as homemade salsa that has not been refrigerated.
  • You drink homemade wine or alcohol.
  • You eat fermented or salted fish.
  • You eat foil-wrapped baked potatoes that were not kept hot.
  • You eat garlic in oil.
  • You eat canned cheese sauce.
  • You drink carrot juice.
  • You inject drugs, such as heroin.
  • You have had an injury that creates a large wound.
  • You get regular botulinum toxin injections.
  • You have a serious health condition that affects the stomach or intestine.

What are the symptoms of Botulism?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Blurred or double vision.
  • Drooping eyelids.
  • Difficulty talking or swallowing.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Fatigue.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Paralysis.
  • Difficulty breathing.

How is Botulism diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:

  • Your signs and symptoms, especially if you recently ate a high-risk food.
  • The results of a physical exam, which may include blood and stool tests to check for C. botulinum.
  • Other tests, such as:
    • Spinal fluid examination.
    • Checking your nerve function (nerve conduction study).
    • Checking your muscle function (electromyogram).
    • MRI or CT scan.
    • Urine tests.

How is Botulism treated?

This condition is treated by:

  • Taking medicine that stops the toxin from working in your body (antitoxin).
  • Getting rid of remaining contaminated food in your body through an enema or induced vomiting.
  • Providing supportive care as needed, such as:
    • IV fluids or a feeding tube, if you are unable to swallow.
    • A breathing tube or machine (ventilator) to help you breathe, if your respiratory system is affected.

If you have a wound infected with the toxin, you may need surgery to remove the source of the bacteria. Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic medicine.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, take it as told by your health care provider.Do notstop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.
  • Throw out any leftover food that could have made you sick.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

How is Botulism prevented?

  • If you can food at home, take safety precautions, such as:
    • Sterilizing containers before use.
    • Storing canned food at temperatures between 50°F and 70°F (10–21°C).
    • Using canned food within a year of canning.
    • Throwing away any jars that:
      • Are leaking.
      • Are cracked or damaged.
      • Are bulging or swollen.
      • Leak liquid or foam when opened.
      • Contain food that is moldy or smells bad.
  • If you spill any contaminated food, use a bleach cleaner to wipe it up.
  • If you need to throw away contaminated food:
    • Wear rubber or latex gloves.
    • Place food inside of a sealed bag and then place it in another plastic bag. Make sure all bags are sealed tightly.
    • Throw food away in a trash bin outside of the home, away from people and pets.
    • Do notwash the food down the sink or garbage disposal.
    • After throwing away the food, wash your hands for at least two minutes with soap and warm water.
  • Keep all wounds clean and contact your health care provider if you notice signs of infection.

If you receive botulinum toxin injections for cosmetic reasons, get them from a licensed professional.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You develop new symptoms.
  • Your symptoms get worse.

Get help right away if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have muscle weakness that spreads or gets worse.
  • You have blurred or double vision.
  • You develop trouble speaking or swallowing.
  • You have severe abdominal cramps.
  • You have severe nausea or vomiting.


  • Botulism is an illness caused by a poison (toxin) that is made by a certain type of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum(C. botulinum).
  • You may develop this illness by eating contaminated food, having a wound infected with the toxin, having the bacteria spores in your intestine, or receiving botulinum toxin injections for cosmetic reasons.
  • Symptoms may include muscle weakness, blurred or double vision, difficulty talking or swallowing, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
  • This condition is usually treated with medicine that stops the toxin from working in your body (antitoxin).

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