Botulism is an uncommon but grave paralytic illness brought on by a nerve toxin that’s made from the bacteria botulinum, butyricum and baratii. There are three common types of botulism and all types can be fatal and avoided. Knowledge is power, and knowing about botulism can save a life.
Food botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulinum toxin. This type of botulism is considered a public health crisis because many can become poisoned by eating contaminated food products. Food becomes contaminated because of improper handling during production, hygienic issues during handling and improper cooking and storage. People who perform home canning should keep to strict hygienic practices in order to reduce the contamination of foods. Following the instructions on how to safely home can, include the use of pressure cookers to reach temperatures that will kill the botulinum toxins.
Wound botulism comes about by a toxin that is introduced by a wound infected with the Clostridium toxin. This type of botulism can be prevented by seeking medical attention for any infected wounds.
Infant botulism is brought about by ingesting the spores found in the botulinum bacteria. This bacterium grows in the intestines and releases the botulism toxin. The bacterium is found on floors, countertops and carpets, because the disease is carried in soil and dust. The most common way for a child to develop botulism is through the ingestion of honey. Children under 12 months of age do not have the ability to fight off this toxin, and it could become fatal.
The symptoms seen in botulism include double and blurred vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, muscle weakness and a dry mouth. Infants affected can seem lethargic, have no appetite, suffer from constipation and reduced muscle tone. These symptoms are part of a muscle paralysis caused by the botulism toxin. If not treated, these symptoms can trigger a paralysis of the trunk, legs, arms and respiratory muscles. Foodborne botulism symptoms usually appear 15 to 32 hours after ingesting a contaminated food. Symptoms can also appear earlier than or as late as 10 days after ingestion.
Physicians will consider a botulism diagnosis if the patient's history and physical examination support the diagnosis. Tests are usually needed to rule out other diseases and to confirm a botulism diagnosis. The most common tests include a nerve conduction test or EMG, a brain scan and a spinal fluid analysis.
Respiratory failure and paralysis that exist with a severe case of botulism may force a patient onto a ventilator for weeks or possibly months. The antitoxin treatment will block the botulism toxin that is circulating in the blood. If taken before paralysis is widespread, the antitoxin can prevent deterioration and shorten recovery time. Sometimes it is necessary to remove the contaminated food that is still in the stomach and intestines by inducing vomiting or bowel movements. Wounds are treated surgically to remove the source of the bacteria and the patient is then put on a strong antibiotic.
Tips and comments
Excellent medical care in a hospital setting is the backbone of treatment for all types of botulism. See a doctor at the first sign of botulism.