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Botulism

What is botulism?
What are the symptoms of botulism?
How is botulism spread?
How can I keep from getting botulism?
If I’ve been exposed to botulism, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
How do I know if I have botulism?
What treatments are available for botulism? How serious is the disease?
How many cases of botulism are reported each year?
Where can I get more information on botulism?

What is botulism?
Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin produced by certain bacteria under very specific conditions. Although three types of bacteria can produce this toxin, it is typically produced by Clostridium botulinum. People cannot smell or taste the poison that causes botulism.

There are five main kinds of botulism:

What are the symptoms of botulism?
Symptoms include:

Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone.

How is botulism spread?
Food-borne botulism is often spread when people eat home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn that have not been canned properly. Improper food handling during manufacture, at stores or by consumers, is another source of food-borne spread.

Wound botulism develops when wounds become infected, and is often tied to injectable street drugs.

The bacteria that typically causes most cases of infant botulism is found in soil and dust. The bacteria can be found inside homes on floors, carpet and countertops even after cleaning. Honey can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism. 

How can I keep from getting botulism?
To prevent food-borne botulism:

Potato salad

Children less than 12 months old should not be fed honey to prevent infant botulism. Honey is safe for older children and adults to eat. 

If I’ve been exposed to botulism, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
In cases of food-borne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days.

How do I know if I have botulism?
Botulism can be hard to diagnose. Several other conditions, including Guillain-Barré syndrome, stroke and myasthenia gravis can appear similar to botulism. If botulism is suspected, a blood test can be ordered to confirm. 

What treatments are available for botulism? How serious is the disease?
Most people with botulism will need to be cared for in a hospital.

If diagnosed early, botulism can be treated with an antitoxin which blocks the action of toxin circulating in the blood. If given before paralysis is complete, antitoxin can prevent worsening and shorten recovery time.

Individuals with severe illness may develop respiratory failure and paralysis. They may be on a breathing machine (ventilator) for weeks or months, and require intensive medical and nursing care until the paralysis slowly improves.

Individuals with wound botulism may require surgery to remove the source of the toxin-producing bacteria followed by antibiotics.

Botulism is a serious illness. It results in death in about 3 to 5 percent of cases, but complications like paralysis and breathing difficulties that require use of a ventilator are more common. Recovery can take years and require long-term therapy.

How many cases of botulism are reported each year?
Northern Kentucky averages fewer than 1 cases of botulism per year, with most being infant botulism.

In the United States, an average of 145 cases are reported each year. Of these, approximately 15 percent are food-borne, 65 percent are infant botulism, and 20 percent are wound. Adult intestinal colonization and iatrogenic botulism also occur, but rarely.

Outbreaks of food-borne botulism involving two or more persons occur most years and are usually caused by home-canned foods.

Where can I get more information on botulism?
For more information, you can call the Health Department at 859.363.2070 or visit http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/consumers.html.

For tips on canning food safely at home, visit http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/INTRO%20section%20Home%20Can.pdf