PUBLIC HEALTH FACT SHEET
What is Botulism?
Botulism is a severe form of general body paralysis caused by an extremely potent toxin. The toxin is produced when a germ called Clostridium botulinum forms spores that germinate under special conditions.
These conditions are:
- In improperly preserved food, usually food canned at home
- A tissue wound contaminated with Cl. Botulinum
- Infants who consume spores that then live in the intestine and produce toxin
The toxin is easily destroyed by boiling, but the spores may survive inadequate food preservation.
How is it spread?
Almost all foodborne botulism cases in recent years have been associated with improper home canning of fruits and vegetables, with occasional meat-related canning cases.
How is it treated?
A botulism antitoxin is available but must be used early, before the toxin has bound itself to nerves, in order to be helpful.
How can we prevent Botulism?
Information about home canning and avoidance of food in suspicious appearing containers is regularly disseminated in the media. Advances in the commercial food industry have virtually eliminated botulism as a problem. To access the USDA complete Guide to Home Canning go to: http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/canningguide.html
SYMPTOMS OF BOTULISM
Signs and symptoms usually occur between 6 hours and 8 days after consumption of the toxin, beginning with blurred or double vision and proceeding to a descending paralysis.
Victims may need respiratory support for weeks or months. Death, when it occurs, is usually caused by respiratory paralysis.