Botulism - Fact Sheet
What is botulism?
Botulism is a serious illness caused by a nerve toxin made by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. A toxin is a poison that is released by some bacteria and viruses. There are three types of botulism: foodborne, wound, and infant.
Where are Clostridium botulinum bacteria found?
These bacteria are commonly found in the soil and grow best in low oxygen conditions.
How do these bacteria spread?
Foodborne botulism occurs when person eats preformed toxin present in contaminated food. It often involves improperly processed home canned foods. Infant botulism occurs when children eat spores that grow and produce bacteria. These bacteria then reproduce in the gut and release toxin. Infant botulism has been associated with eating honey that contains the bacterial spores. Light and dark corn syrups have also been reported to contain the spores, although cases of infant botulism have not been linked to corn syrup. Would botulism, a rare disease, occurs when spores get into an open wound and reproduce in an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment.
Who gets botulism?
Anyone can get foodborne or wound botulism. Infant botulism occurs among children less than 1 year of age.
What are the symptoms of botulism?
Foodborne and wound botulism produce symptoms that affect the nervous system. Symptoms include blurred or double vision, dry mouth, and muscle paralysis that may affect breathing. About 15% of persons with foodborne botulism die. Infant botulism has a wide range of symptoms including constipation, loss of appetite, weakness, an altered cry, and a striking loss of head control. About 2% of the cases of infant botulism die.
How soon do symptoms appear?
Symptoms of foodborne botulism usually appear 12 to 36 hours after eating the food that contains the toxin. However, it is possible for symptoms to take several days to develop. The incubation period for infant botulism is unknown since the exact time of ingestion often cannot be determined. Symptoms of wound botulism may take up to 2 weeks to appear.
How long can an infected person carry Clostridium botulinum?
C. botulinum toxin and organism may be shed at high levels in the feces of infants with botulism weeks to months after onset of illness. However no instance of secondary person-to-person transmission has been documented. Foodborne botulism patients typically excrete the toxin for shorter periods.
Should an infected person be excluded from school or work?
No instance of person-to-person spread has ever been documented for botulism; most infected people may return to school or work when they have recovered from their illness.
What is the treatment for botulism?
Hospital care is necessary. Persons with botulism may need help with breathing. Antitoxin is given in certain cases of foodborne botulism, but is not used in cases of infant botulism.
How can botulism be prevented?
Honey and corn syrup should not be fed to infants less than 1 year old. All canned and preserved foods should be properly processed and prepared. Bulging containers should not be opened, and commercial cans with bulging lids should be returned unopened to the place of purchase. Goods with off-odors should not be eaten or even tasted. Home canned vegetables should be boiled, with stirring, for at least 3 minutes before eating.
This fact sheet is for informational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you think that you may have this infection, or have questions about the disease described above, you should consult your health care provider.
For additional information on this disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
To contact the Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program, please call 860-509-7994.