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Botulism

[Ba-cha-lism]

Clostridium botulinum

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin produced by the germ called Clostridium botulinum. If the toxin gets into your bloodstream, it can block the release of a signal between nerves and muscles, and this is actually what causes botulism. This affects the nerves that control muscles in the face, mouth, and throat, and may affect the ability to open your eyes, move your eyes, and swallow. If botulism is left untreated, it can paralyze your arms and legs, prevent you from breathing, and even kill you. Find out key facts about botulism and how to prevent it.

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Key Facts

  • Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness that often affects previously healthy people.
  • Botulism is caused by botulinum toxin, the most potent known toxin.
  • Clostridium botulinum can make spores and, under certain conditions that rarely occur, the spores can grow and make botulinum toxin.
  • Even taking a small taste of food containing botulinum toxin can cause botulism.
  • Kinds of botulism include foodborne, wound, infant, adult intestinal colonization, and iatrogenic.

Media

Botulism: Countering Common Clinical Misperceptions

Prevention Tips

  • If you preserve, can, or ferment your own foods, you can reduce the chance of getting botulism from these foods by:
    • Following safe home canning instructions as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
    • Following all instructions for washing, cleaning, and sterilizing items used in canning
    • Using pressure canners for low-acid foods like potatoes, most other vegetables, and meats
  • Everyone can reduce their chances of getting foodborne botulism by:
    • Refrigerating homemade oils infused with garlic or herbs and throwing away any unused oils after 4 days
    • Keeping potatoes that have been baked while wrapped in aluminum foil hot (at temperatures above 140°F) until they are served, or refrigerating them with the foil loosened
  • Prevent wound botulism by keeping wounds clean and not injecting illicit drugs. If wounds appear infected, seek medical care quickly.
  • Honey can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism, so do not feed honey to children younger than 12 months.
  • If you need an injection of botulinum toxin for a medical condition, your doctor will choose the safest dose. If you get an injection of botulinum toxin for cosmetic reasons, be sure to go to a licensed professional.

Learn more about botulism, its causes, and ways it can be prevented >

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