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A rare but serious illness caused by toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacterium. The bacterium may enter the body through wounds, or they may live in improperly canned or preserved food.

There are three main kinds of botulism:

Foodborne clostridium botulinum is found in soil and untreated water throughout the world. It produces spores that survive in improperly preserved or canned food, where they produce toxin. When eaten, even minute amounts of this toxin can lead to severe poisoning. Foods most commonly contaminated are home-canned vegetables, cured pork and ham, and smoked or raw fish.

With foodborne botulism, symptoms begin within 6 hours to 2 weeks (most commonly between 12 and 36 hours) 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.

Foodborne botulism can occur in all age groups and is a public health emergency because the contaminated food may still be available to other persons besides the patient.

Infant botulism is a special type of botulism in which living bacteria or its spores, Clostridium botulinum, are ingested and grow within the infant’s gastrointestinal tract and produce a toxin responsible for the infant’s symptoms. Clostridium botulinum also appears as normal flora in the stool of some infants.
Wound botulism occurs when wounds are infected with C. botulinum that secretes the toxin.
Botulism is not spread from one person to another.

* Complications aspiration pneumonia and infection
* respiratory distress
* long-lasting weakness
* nervous system dysfunction for up to one year

Prevention consists of always discarding bulging cans or off-smelling preserved foods. Sterilize home canned foods by pressure cooking at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.


Treatment is to establish a clear airway, provide aid with breathing, give botulinus antitoxin, from supply 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. Antibiotics are often given, but have not been shown to always be beneficial. Prompt treatment significantly reduces the risk of death, so go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if botulism poisoning is suspected.

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