What is Botulism?

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What is Botulism?

Botulism is a case of food poisoning, not a nervous system disorder. Persons infected with botulism are basically paralyzed. Botulism is an extremely dangerous disease because it spreads without warning and often results in death. The name of the disease originates from botulus, the word meaning "sausage", because the early victims died from eating contaminated meat. Other variations of the disease are intestinal botulism and wound botulism.


Symptoms begin to show up after 12-36 hours of eating contaminated food - usually improperly canned, non-acidic food. The patient may experience dizziness, dry mouth, and blurred and double vision. There may also be abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and constipation or diarrhea - depending on the variations of the causative agent. Later, paralysis of all major muscles takes place, resulting in death after paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Causative Agent

Botulism is caused by a rod-shaped, anaerobic, spore-forming, Gram-positive bacterium - Clostridium botulinum. Its spores are unlikely to be killed by boiling water, but are surely killed by autocleaving. Different species of the bacteria work in different ways, however, they produce toxins in a similar way. C. botulinum can produce seven toxins, namely: A, B, C1, D, E, F, and G. The toxins A, B, E, and F affect humans, and the others affect animals.

Pathogenesis facts

• C. botulinum endospores are resistant to heat, therefore, can grow on fruit, meat, vegetables, seafood and cheese despite being cooked and boiled.

• Spores germinate at a temperature = 39F (4C) and a pH above 4.5; then the bacteria produces the exotoxin.

• Upon eating contaminated food, the exotoxin resists digestion and is absorbed through the small intestine, then it circulates in the blood stream for about three weeks.

• The exotoxin is a neurotoxin, and is one of the most powerful toxin known.

• The neurotoxin attacks the brain; it attaches to the motor nerves, blocking signals to pass from the brain to the muscles - producing paralysis.

• Intestinal botumlism occurs mainly in infants of age 6 months of younger. This type of botulism is not easily detected in the infants' blood, but in their feces.

• C. botulinum also grows in open wounds and dead tissue.

• Nevertheless, C. botulinum neurotoxin has also been used to treat people with muscle spasms.


C. botulinum exists in all the soils and water bodies of the earth. Major outbreaks can be traced to improperly canned food. Currently, intestinal botulism is more common than foodborne botulism.

Prevention and Treatment

Proper home-canning methods are extremely important. Food should be properly sterilized and sealed at the time of canning. Canned food should be heated to 100C for 15 min before consumption. Contaminated food tastes and looks normal, thus, those two entities are unreliable. The disease may be treated with intravenous administration of an antitoxin soon after an accurate diagnosis is made. The antitoxin, however, works very slowly and the affected nerves may take months to recover.

Additional Readings:

Basic Bacteriology

1. Bacterial Locations and Toxins
2. Growth Medias and Oxygen Requirements
3. Staphylococus
4. Streptococcus
5. Enterococcus
6. Bacillus
7. Listeria
8. Corynebacterium
9. Actinomyces
10. Nocadria
11. Mycobacterium
12. Clostridium
13. Neisseria
14. Pseudomonas
15. Legionella
16. Bordetella
17. Francisella
18. Brucella
19. Campylobacter
20. Escherichia
21. Shigella
22. Klebsiella
23. Salmonella
24. Yersinia
25. Proteus
26. Vibrio
27. Pasteurella
28. Haemophilus
29. Bacteriodes and Prevotella
30. Treponema
31. Borrelia
32. Rickettsia
33. Coxiella
34. Ehrlichia
35. Chlamydia
36. Mycoplasma
37. What is an ELEK's Test?
38. Causes of Orchitis
39. What is Leprosy?
40. What is Folliculitis?
41. What is Botulism?
42. How to interpret PPD (Purified Protein Derivative) results?
43. Prenatal Infections

Related Topics

1. Bacterial vs viral infections

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