What is Botulism?

Botulism is a rare muscle-paralyzing illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostride botulinum. There are three naturally occurring kinds of botulism:

  • foodborne botulism caused by eating toxin-contaminated food. No instances of waterborn botulism have ever been reported.
  • wound botulism caused by toxin production in a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum. The botulinum toxin does not penetrate intact skin.
  • intestinal botulism caused by ingesting foods contaminated with spores of the Clostridium botulinum. The spores grow and develop into the bacteria, which release botulinum toxin in the intestines.

Inhalational botulism is a man-made kind of botulism that results when the botulinum toxin is distributed in an aerosol form, and is thought to be the most likely form that would be used by bioterrorists. When aerosolized, botulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known.

What are the symptoms of botulism?

Once botulinum toxin is absorber, either in the lungs or intestines, the bloodstream circulates the toxin, delivering it throughout the body. The toxin acts on the nerves that supply muscles, interrupting communication between the brains and muscles. All forms of human botulism have virtually the same symptoms:

  • Double or blurred vision; drooping eyelids.
  • Slurred speech; difficulty swallowing; dry mouth.
  • Muscle weakness that begins at the shoulders and travels down the body.
  • Paralysis of muscles involved in breathing will cause a person to stop breathing and die unless breathing assistance is provided.



Botulism Information for the Public Botulism Information for Public Health Officials


Related Links

CDC - Botulism Page