Botulism: Symptoms, causes, prevention, and sources

Botulism is a serious illness caused by the botulinum toxin. The toxin causes paralysis. Paralysis starts in the face and spreads to the limbs. If it reaches the breathing muscles, respiratory failure can result.

The toxin is produced by Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a type of bacterium.

All types of botulism eventually lead to paralysis, so any case of botulism is treated as a medical emergency.

In the past, it was often fatal, but antitoxins have significantly improved the outlook.

In 2015, the United States saw the biggest outbreak of botulism in 40 years. It stemmed from improperly home-canned potatoes that were shared at a potluck meal.


[botulinum toxin is responsible for botulism]
Botulism is a serious disease caused by the botulinum toxin.

The signs and symptoms depend on the type of botulism.

In food-borne botulism, signs and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea followed by constipation and abdominal distention. There may be weakness and difficulty breathing. Symptoms normally appear between 18 and 36 hours after consuming the contaminated food, but this can vary between 3 hours and 8 days.

In wound botulism, the nerves that connect the brain to the spine, known as the cranial nerves, experience the first symptoms. This then spreads to the rest of the body. The incubation period is from 4 days to 2 weeks.

Neurological signs and symptoms of adult, food-borne, and wound botulism are the same, but the symptoms of wound botulism ones may take longer to appear.

The patient may experience double or blurred vision, the eyelids may droop, there will be facial weakness, a dry mouth, dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, and speech slurring. Muscles will become weak.

Next, paralysis will set in. Without treatment, the patient’s breathing muscles will eventually become paralyzed, resulting in respiratory failure and death.

The patient remains conscious during this process.

In infant botulism, signs and symptoms may include:


poor feeding

bad temper

excessive drooling when feeding

sagging eyelids

flat facial expression

lethargy and listlessness

respiratory difficulties

slow or improper reflexes

weak crying weakly

floppiness and poor muscle tone

no gag reflex

unfocused eyes

weak sucking

The incubation period for infant botulism varies from 3 days to 30 days.

[botulism can thrive in improperly canned food]
The toxin can thrive in improperly canned food.

Follow any instructions carefully when canning food at home, or avoid canning food at home

Boil home-processed foods for at least 10 minutes before eating, even if no signs of food spoilage are evident

Do not taste canned food items to see if they are still good. Throw away any cans that are bulging, leaking, or appear damaged

Keep potatoes that have been baked in foil hot until eaten

Not give honey or corn syrup to infants under 12 months of age

Ensure all foods are well-cooked

Keep oils infused with garlic or herbs in a refrigerator

Boiling can destroy both the vegetative, or non-spore, form of the bacterium, and the toxin it produces.

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