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Definition

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused due to toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria which affects the nervous system of the body.

Types of botulism

There are mainly three types of botulism - foodborne, wound and infant.

Infant botulism occurs when Clostridium botulinum bacterial spores grow in the baby's intestinal tract. This may typically occur between 2 to 8 months.

Foodborne botulism is caused when the bacteria thrive in damp environments with low oxygen levels, like in canned foods.

Wound botulism occurs when dangerous bacteria enter a cut and the toxin may cause serious infection.

Causes of botulism

The causes vary with the type of botulism

Infant botulism

Babies are more likely to be affected by botulism. The source can be honey, which often comes in bottles or is exposed to soil.

Foodborne botulism

The source is often canned foods that are low in acid content. It may also be caused due to fermented seafood, foil-wrapped baked potatoes, oil infused with garlic and even chili peppers.

Wound botulism

It can be caused by an injury, which might not get noticed. It has also been witnessed in people, who inject excessive amounts of black tar heroin, which may contain spores of the bacteria.

Symptoms of botulism

The signs and symptoms are different with the types of botulism.

Infant botulism

  • Constipation (often the first sign)
  • Weak cry
  • Floppy movements
  • Drooling
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty sucking while breastfeeding
  • Paralysis

Foodborne botulism and Wound botulism

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Dry mouth
  • Facial weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Trouble breathing

Diagnosis of botulism

The doctors may diagnose botulism by asking the patient if he or she has signs that relate to botulism. He may also ask about the kind of foods eaten in the recent past or ask if the patient was wounded recently.

Blood tests, stool and vomit tests will be conducted to examine if there are any bacteria toxins.

Treatments of botulism

Foodborne botulism can be cured with medications to induce bowel clearance. While wound botulism can be surgically treated by removing the infected tissue. Antitoxin may also be injected into the bloodstream that will reduce the complications. A mechanical ventilator is given if the patient is having trouble in breathing.

Antibiotics are recommended only in case of wound botulism. Botulism treatment is also given through therapies.

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