Public Health Fact Sheet

What is Botulism?
Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body's nerves that causes difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and death. This dangerous toxin is produced when a germ called Clostridium botulinum forms protective spores that germinate under special conditions.

How is it spread?
Foodborne botulism is caused by eating improperly preserved food (usually food canned at home).  Wound botulism can happen when a tissue wound becomes contaminated with CI. Botulinum. Infants can become ill with botulism by consuming spores that then live in the intestine and produce toxin. Iatrogenic botulism is caused when too much Botulinum Toxin is injected for cosmetic reasons (to reduce wrinkles) or for medical reasons (to treat migraine headaches).

How is botulism 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?
Practice safe food canning practices.  A guide to home canning can be found at:  Keep wounds clean and dry. If a wound appears to be infected, seek medical treatment.  Be sure to get any botulism injections by a licensed practitioner.

Additional information is available on the CDC website at
Symptoms of Botulism

  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing and speaking

  • Descending paralysis
  • Muscle weakness

February 2020