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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Botulism

What is botulism?

Botulism is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial illness that is caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Botulism poisoning is extremely rare, but is so dangerous that each diagnosed case is considered a public health emergency. Studies have shown that there is a 35 to 65 percent chance of death for patients who are not treated immediately and effectively with botulism antitoxin.

Most of the botulism cases reported each year come from foods that are not canned properly at home. Infant botulism, the most commonly diagnosed form of botulism, is often associated with the consumption of honey by children under one year of age. Botulism from commercially canned food is rare, but commercial canned chili products were identified as the source of a botulism outbreak in 2007.

What are typical symptoms of botulism?

Botulism neurotoxins prevent neurotransmitters from functioning properly. This means that they inhibit motor control. As botulism progresses, the patient experiences paralysis from top to bottom, starting with the eyes and face and moving to the throat, chest, and extremities. When paralysis reaches the chest, death from inability to breathe results unless the patient is ventilated.

Symptoms of botulism generally appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food.  With treatment, illness lasts from 1 to 10 days.  Full recovery from botulism poisoning can take weeks to months.  Some people never fully recover.

In general, symptoms of botulism poisoning include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, double vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, muscle weakness, and paralysis.

Infant botulism takes on a different form. Symptoms in an infant include lethargy, poor appetite, constipation, drooling, drooping eyelids, a weak cry, and paralysis.

You can learn more about botulism at Foodborneillness.com.