by Amy Scholten, MPH
Botulism is a rare, but life-threatening illness. It affects the nerves. It needs to be treated right away.
Botulism is caused by bacteria that makes toxins. It can cause a type of food poisoning. Rarely, the bacteria enter the blood through wounds, or the toxins are inhaled.
A very small amount of the toxin can cause illness.
Botulism risk is higher for:
Symptoms start in the face and eyes. Without care, muscles in the arms, legs, and torso will not move. This includes muscles that help with breathing.
Symptoms range from mild to serious.
In adults they may be:
In babies they may be:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests will be done to rule out other conditions and find the source of infection. They may include:
Treatment will start right away, even if lab tests are not ready. This may involve:
The risk of botulism can be lowered by:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food Safety—US Department of Health and Human Services
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Public Health Agency of Canada
Botulism. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/botulism. Accessed February 1, 2021.
Botulism. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/botulism. Accessed February 1, 2021.
Botulism. Food Safety—US Department of Health & Human Service website. Available at: https://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/botulism/index.html. Accessed February 1, 2021.
Friziero A, Sperti C, et al. Foodborne botulism presenting as small bowel obstruction: a case report. BMC Infectious Diseases, 1/12/2021; 21(1): 1-4.
Infant botulism. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/botulism.html?ref=search. Accessed February 1, 2021.
Botulism. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/anaerobic-bacteria/botulism. Accessed February 1, 2021.
Last reviewed September 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 2/1/2021