Botulism is a rare but serious condition caused by toxins from bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. They attack the nervous system and cause paralysis that gradually spreads throughout the body, starting from the head down to the legs.The three major forms of botulism are:
- Infant botulism
- Foodborne botulism
- Wound botulism
All types of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Signs and symptoms for the three major forms are botulism include:
- Infant botulism: Constipation, muscle weakness, fatigue, drooling, difficulty feeding, irritability and muscle weakness (symptoms begin 18-36 hours once the toxin has entered the baby’s body)
- Foodborne botulism: Difficulty swallowing or speaking, dry mouth, facial weakness, blurred or double vision, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, drooping eyelids and muscle weakness
- Symptoms begin between 18-36 hours once the toxin has entered the body and can range from several hours to several days depending on the toxin ingested.
- Wound botulism: Difficulty swallowing or speaking, fever, facial weakness, blurred or double vision, shortness of breath, drooping eyelids and muscle weakness
Botulism is caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, found in soil, dust and river or sea sediments. The bacteria can produce highly poisonous toxins when they are deprived of oxygen. The causes in the three major forms of botulism include:
- Infant botulism: Known as the most common form of botulism. It begins after Clostridium botulinum bacterial spores grow in a baby's intestinal tract and typically occurs between the ages of 2 and 6 months.The source of infant botulism may be honey; however, it is more likely to be exposure to soil contaminated with bacteria.
- Foodborne botulism: Bacteria thrive and produce toxins where little oxygen is present, such as in canned foods with low acid (green beans, corn and beets). Once the contaminated food is consumed, the toxins disrupt the nerve function in the body, causing paralysis.
- Wound botulism: If bacteria were to get into a wound, it would cause a dangerous infection that produces a hazardous toxin to the body. Wound botulism has increased throughout the years in individuals who inject heroin, which can contain bacterial spores.
Complications due to botulinum toxin arise because the toxin affects muscle control throughout the body. These complications include:
- Speech impairment
- Difficulty swallowing
- Long-lasting weakness
- Shortness of breath
Proper techniques must be implemented in order to ensure an individual’s safety from botulism germs. These techniques include:
- Cooking foods at 250 for at least 30 minutes
- Boiling foods for 10 minutes before serving them
- Eating foods on a plate rather than from the container they came in
- Storing oil infused with garlic or herbs in the refrigerator.
- Avoiding giving infants under the age of 1 honey in order to reduce the risk of infant botulism
- Avoiding injecting or inhaling street drugs