A poisonous nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum causes botulism. Typically, there are three forms of botulism: You can get it by eating food that is already contaminated with the toxin (foodborne botulism); the bacteria can develop and produce the toxin in the still-developing intestines of babies who ingest botulism spores (infant botulism -- mature digestive systems eliminate these spores before they can do any damage); or the bacterial spores can enter the body through a wound, germinate, and produce the toxin (wound botulism).
Botulism Infection Information
Botulism is a rare, but potentially fatal, infection. Common symptoms include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, swallowing problems, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. The toxin causes paralysis that moves from the arms down the body, and it might affect the respiratory muscles, leading to respiratory failure.
Babies who develop infant botulism will be lethargic and constipated and have poor muscle tone, a weak cry, and little interest in eating. Foodborne and infant botulism symptoms usually show 18 to 36 hours after exposure to the toxin, but wound botulism symptoms take about a week to appear. Getting treatment for the illness early increases your chance of recovery and can help health authorities pinpoint the cause and keep others from eating contaminated food. Once diagnosed, affected people are treated with botulism antitoxin.
Who's at Risk for Botulism?
Botulism is a threat to everyone, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 110 cases are reported each year in the United States. The vast majority of those are infant botulism, which usually affects babies between 6 weeks and 6 months of age.
Defensive Measures Against Botulism
Proper food preparation will prevent botulism in most cases. Put these tips to work in your home:
- Use caution when canning. Home canning, especially of foods that have a low acid content, is responsible for most foodborne botulism outbreaks. Be sure to follow proper canning procedures, which you can get from your county extension service. Check with your state's department of agriculture or a university for details.
- Refrigerate infused oil. Oils that are infused with garlic or other herbs can be a ripe spot for botulism toxin production. Keep these products in the refrigerator.
- Cool it. The bacteria that produce botulism toxin thrive at room temperature, so leaving warm food on the counter is an invitation for contamination. The botulism toxin won't begin forming until food is left out for at least 12 hours, but to be safe, don't let your baked potatoes or any other foods sit at room temperature. Eat them right after cooking or put them in the refrigerator.
- Keep honey from your little honey. Honey and corn syrup can be homes for the spores that cause infant botulism. Avoid giving this sweet stuff to babies who are younger than 12 months old.
Clean any wound you have with an antiseptic and watch it closely for signs of infection. Because the botulism toxin only grows in the absence of oxygen, it is very important to keep wounds clean and free of dead tissue. See a health-care provider immediately if you have any concerns.Dysentery most commonly attacks children and has some very unpleasant symptoms, including severe diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Keep reading to learn how to treat and avoid a dysentery infection.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.