Botulism

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideUncommon and Common Food-Poisoning Dangers in Pictures

Uncommon and Common Food-Poisoning Dangers in Pictures

How common is botulism?

Because of better canning processes, especially with home canning or home processing of food, the number of yearly cases of foodborne botulism has dropped to about 1,000 worldwide. In the United States, on average, 110 cases of botulism are reported each year. Of these, nearly 25% of cases are foodborne botulism, approximately 72% are infant botulism, and the remainder (about 3%) are wound botulism, which until recently was rare. Outbreaks of foodborne botulism involving two or more people are usually caused by eating contaminated home canned foods. The number of cases of foodborne and infant botulism has changed little in recent years. However, the incidence of wound botulism has increased, especially in California, from the use of black-tar heroin, which causes infected wounds at heroin injection sites.

What are botulism symptoms and signs?

The classic symptoms of botulism include

The classic symptoms may also be accompanied by other symptoms and signs such as

Constipation may occur. The health care professional's examination may reveal that the gag reflex and the deep tendon reflexes like the knee-jerk reflex are decreased or absent.

Infants with botulism appear lethargic, weak, and floppy, feed poorly, become constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone. In infants, constipation is often the first symptom to occur.

These are all symptoms and signs related to the muscle paralysis that is caused by the bacterial neurotoxin. If untreated, these symptoms and signs may progress to cause paralysis in various parts of the body, often seen as a descending paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and breathing muscles that can lead to death.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/24/2017

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