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What is botulism?
Botulism is a severe type of food poisoning. It occurs when you eat food that contains a poison produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.
Botulism can be a fatal disease. The poison produced by the bacteria can damage important nerves of the body and cause paralysis. If botulism is not treated promptly, breathing can stop, causing death.
How does it occur?
Botulism occurs when the poison produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria is eaten. It may happen when you eat food that has not been canned or preserved properly.
Botulism can also occur in wounds, but this is rare. It happens when the bacteria grow in a wound.
If babies under the age of 1 year are given honey, they can get botulism, too. About 10% of all honey contains the bacteria, which grows well in the baby's intestines and can make them very sick.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually start within 12 to 72 hours of eating contaminated food. The symptoms include:
- sudden trouble seeing, especially double vision and trouble focusing
- drooping eyelids
- trouble swallowing
- trouble speaking
- weak muscles
- trouble breathing.
Fever is not a symptom of botulism.
If you suspect that you have eaten food contaminated with botulism, call your healthcare provider right away or go to the emergency room. If not treated immediately, botulism can kill you.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and food you have eaten recently. Your provider will examine you and take samples of your blood and the suspected food, if it is available. The samples will be tested in the lab for poison produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria.
How is it treated?
You may need to stay at the hospital. In all cases, this illness requires close observation. Because the nerves to the breathing muscles may be affected, it is important to monitor your breathing. If your breathing muscles stop working, a ventilator (breathing machine) will be used. The machine will allow you to keep breathing until the poison is out of your body. This can take days to weeks.
Your healthcare provider may give you antitoxin medicine to counteract the poison.
How long will the effects last?
The symptoms of botulism usually begin within a few hours to 72 hours after you eat contaminated food. They may last several days. If botulism is not treated, you may not be able to breathe and could die.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow all of your healthcare provider's instructions, including when you are to check back with your provider.
How can I help prevent botulism?
- Remember that contaminated food often looks and smells normal.
- Throw out dented cans and damaged food containers.
- Boil home-canned food for 10 minutes or heat it at 176°F (80°C) for 30 minutes to destroy poisons.
- Use proper time, temperature, and storage guidelines for all food preparation and preservation. Guidelines are available at your state or county extension service, public health department, or library.