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What is Botulism?

image of botulism under microscopeBotulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and sometimes by strains of Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium baratii. There are five main kinds of botulism:

  • Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulinum toxin.
  • Wound botulism is caused by toxin produced from a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum.
  • Infant botulism is caused by consuming the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release toxin.
  • Adult intestinal toxemia (adult intestinal colonization) botulism is a very rare kind of botulism that occurs among adults by the same route as infant botulism.
  • Iatrogenic botulism can occur from accidental overdose of botulinum toxin.

All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Foodborne botulism is a public health emergency because many people can be poisoned by eating a contaminated food.

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