Botulism - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

By: peterhutch

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. There are three main kinds of botulism. Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin. Wound botulism is caused by toxin produced from a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum.

Three types of botulism have been identified: food-borne, wound, and infant botulism. The main difference between types hinges on the route of exposure to the toxin. In the United States, there are approximately 110 cases of botulism reported annually. Food-borne botulism accounts for 25% of all botulism cases and can be traced to eating contaminated home-preserved food. Infant botulism accounts for 72% of all cases, but the recovery rate is good (about 98%) with proper treatment.

Causes

Infant botulism is caused by a food poisoning bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. When an infant swallows spores of this bacterium, the spores grow and produce a poison in the baby's intestine. It's easy for infants to come into contact with this bacterium, because it's quite common in soil and dust. The spores have also been found in samples of honey, which is the only food source that has been linked to actual cases of infant botulism.

Clostridium botulinum is a spore-forming organism that is common in nature. The spores may be found in soil and certain foods (such as honey and some corn syrups). Infant botulism occurs mostly in young infants between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. It has been reported to occur as early as 6 days and as late as 1 year. Risk factors include swallowing honey as a baby, being around contaminated soil, and having less than one stool per day for a period greater than 2 months.

Symptoms

When a person comes into contact with botulism, the organism will affect the central nervous system. This usually happens within twenty-four hours. The most common symptoms are difficulty with swallowing, walking, and speaking. Your vision may become impaired. If not treated, the end result is convulsions, muscle paralysis (particularly in the chest, which leads to suffocation) and death. Death can come in a few days or in a few hours.

Babies with infant botulism are weak and floppy, feed poorly, and cry weakly. Constipation occurs initially in approximately two-thirds of cases. This may be followed by varying degrees of neuromuscular paralysis - the floppy infant syndrome.

Breathing trouble requires hospitalization. The health care team will establish a clear airway and provide supportive therapy. A tube may be inserted through the nose or mouth into the windpipe to provide an airway for oxygen. A breathing machine may be needed. Intravenous fluids can be given when the patient has swallowing difficulties. A feeding tube may be inserted in the nose.

In the most severe situations, such as HUS, the patient may need hospitalization in order to receive supportive nutritional and medical therapy. Maintaining adequate fluid and electrolyte balance and controlling blood pressure are important. Doctors will try to minimize the impact of reduced kidney function. Early dialysis is crucial until the kidneys can function normally again, and blood transfusions may be needed.

Medical Conditions
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Medical Conditions
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles