Toxins made by certain bacterial spores cause botulism. The spores are found:
Spores live in poorly cooked foods. A very small amount of the toxin can cause illness. You can get sick by eating foods that carry the bacteria or toxin. This occurs with:
If a baby swallows the spores, they will grow and make the toxin. Unlike adults and older children, babies become sick from toxins growing in their bowels. Honey is a prime source of infant botulism. Other sources are soil and dust.
Wound infection in the US is rare, but it can happen. The toxin travels to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
In some cases, the cause is unknown.
Botulism toxin is also a potential bioterrorism agent.
Botulism risk is higher:
Symptoms start in the face and eyes, then move down both sides of the body. Without care, muscles in the arms, legs, and torso will not move. This involves muscles that help you breathe. Botulism can be deadly.
Symptoms range from mild to serious.
The time people notice muscle- or nerve-related problems depends on how the toxin got into the body:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. It’s vital to know how you got sick or what you were eating.
You may also have:
Public health officials will work quickly to find the source of botulism to set up testing and care.
Care will start right away, even if your test results aren’t ready. This may involve:
Intubation to Help Breathing
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To lower your chances of botulism, learn how to properly can and cook food. Also:
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. Updated October 25, 2017. Accessed May 23, 2018.
Botulism. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116075/Botulism . Updated August 4, 2015. Accessed May 23, 2018.
Botulism. Food Safety—US Department of Health & Human Service website. Available at: https://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/botulism/index.html. Accessed May 23, 2018.
Botulism. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
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Updated September 2015. Accessed May 23, 2018.
Botulism. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/anaerobic-bacteria/botulism. Updated January 2018. Accessed May 23, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/23/2018