Botulism (from Latin botulus, "sausage") is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin, botulin, that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulin is the most potent known toxin, blocking nerve function and leading to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. more...
There are three main kinds of botulism:
- Foodborne botulism is a form of foodborne illness and is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin.
- Wound botulism is caused by toxin produced from a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum.
- Infant botulism is caused by consuming the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release toxin.
All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Foodborne botulism can be especially dangerous as a public health problem because many people can be poisoned from a single contaminated food source.
In the United States an average of 110 cases of botulism are reported each year. Of these, approximately 25% are foodborne, 72% are infant botulism, and the rest are wound botulism. Outbreaks of foodborne botulism involving two or more persons occur during most years and usually are caused by eating contaminated home-canned foods. The number of cases of foodborne and infant botulism has changed little in recent years, but wound botulism has increased because of the use of black-tar heroin, especially in California.
Symptoms (foodborne and wound forms)
Classic symptoms of botulism occur between 12-36 hours after consuming the botulinum toxin, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days. Those symptoms usually include dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, muscle weakness, double vision, vomiting, and severe diarrhea, along with a progressive muscle paralysis. These are all symptoms of the muscle paralysis caused by the bacterial toxin. If untreated, these symptoms may progress to cause paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, respiratory muscles, and possibly eventual death. In all cases the toxin made by C. botulinum causes illness, not the bacterium itself.
Infant botulism is the most common form of the ailment in the United States. The mode of action of this form is through actual infection by germinating spores in the gut of an infant. Infection results in constipation, general weakness, loss of head control and difficulty feeding. Because of these symptoms, infant botulism is often referred to as floppy baby syndrome.
Honey, corn syrup, and other sweeteners are potentially dangerous for infants. This is because the mixture of the non-acidic digestive juices of an infant, the human body temperature, and an anaerobic environment creates an ideal medium for botulinum spores to grow and produce toxin. Botulinum spores are among the few bacteria that survive in honey, but they also are widely present in the environment. While these spores are harmless to adults, because of stomach acidity, an infant's digestive system is not yet developed enough to destroy them, and the spores could potentially cause infant botulism. For this reason, it is advised that neither honey, nor any other sweetener, should be given to children until they are weaned.
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