Botulism – Causes, Symptoms And Treatment


Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin. It is happen due to the Clostridium botulinum.

There are three main kinds of botulism:

  • Foodborne botulism
  • Infant botulism
  • Wound botulism

All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Foodborne botulism can be especially dangerous because many people can be poisoned by eating a contaminated food.


The types of foods involved in botulism vary according to food preservation and eating habits in different regions. Any food that is conducive to outgrowth and toxin production, that when processed allows spore survival, and is not subsequently heated before consumption can be associated with botulism. Almost any type of food that is not very acidic can support growth and toxin production by C. botulinum.

Botulinal toxin has been demonstrated in a considerable variety of foods, such as canned corn, peppers, green beans, soups, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, ripe olives, spinach, tuna fish, chicken and chicken livers and liver pate, and luncheon meats, ham, sausage, stuffed eggplant, lobster, and smoked and salted fish.

The symptoms are not caused by the organism itself, but by the toxin that the bacterium releases. They usually appear within 12 to 36 hours after exposure. Incidence of botulism is low, but the mortality rate is high if treatment is not immediate and proper.

Early symptoms of botulism include:

  • Double or Blurred Vision
  • Drooping Eyelids
  • Slurred Speech
  • Trouble Swallowing
  • Dry Mouth
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Poor Feeding
  • Poor Muscle Tone
  • Paralysis of the respiratory muscles


If diagnosed early, the severity of food-borne botulism can be reduced by:

  • Inducing vomiting or using enemas to remove any contaminated food remaining in the gut
  • Administration of horse serum antitoxin to neutralize botulinum toxin circulating in the blood but not yet attached to nerve endings

The progression of wound botulism also may be halted through use of:

  • Horse Serum Antitoxin
  • Surgical Treatment of the Wound to Remove the Bacteria
  • Infant botulism cannot be treated with horse serum antitoxin, because of the risk of severe allergic reaction.
  • Whether or not antitoxin is administered, full recovery from severe botulism requires weeks or months of intensive medical and nursing care, including mechanical ventilation if necessary.
  • Over weeks or months, new nerve endings are able to grow and the paralysis is reversed.
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath may persist for years after recovery.

Patients suffering from wound botulism should receive equine antibiotics such as penicillin. If you’re having trouble breathing, you will probably need to use a ventilator.