What is botulism?
Botulism is a rare, but potentially deadly illness characterized by muscle paralysis. Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. A toxin is a poison that is created by living organisms (plants, animals and certain bacteria).
The bacteria are found naturally in the soil. If the bacteria grow in improperly canned or preserved foods, they can produce the botulinum toxin.
There are three main kinds of naturally occurring botulism: 1) food-borne; 2) wound; and 3) infant.
A fourth kind of botulism, inhalation (affecting the lungs), can happen when the pure toxin is released into the air and a person breathes it in.
How can someone come into contact with botulism?
Botulism is not contagious; it cannot be spread from one person to another.
Botulism as a weapon: A terrorist event may involve the contamination of food sources. However, the pure toxin would most likely be aerosolized and released into the air.
Please note: Just because you come into contact with botulism does not mean you will get sick from it.
W hat happens when someone gets sick from botulism?
How likely is someone to die from botulism?
All forms of botulism can be deadly but most patients who receive medical treatment do not die. Food-borne botulism can be very dangerous because many people can be poisoned at the same time by eating a contaminated food at a common meal. A patient with a severe case may need a breathing machine. Patients who survive may feel tired and have shortness of breath for months to years. Long-term therapy may be needed.
What is the treatment for botulism?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a supply of antitoxin for treating cases of botulism. If taken early, the antitoxin works to lessen the seriousness of symptoms. Most patients recover fully after weeks to months of care.
Supportive care (intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever and pain) is the standard treatment.
Is there a vaccine for botulism?
No, currently there is no vaccine for botulism.
What should be done if someone has botulism?
If you think that you or someone you know may have come into contact with botulism, contact the local county health department right away. (Visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/local/alpha.htm for a listing of all county health departments in Illinois or check your local phone book.)
If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of botulism, call your health care provider or the Illinois Poison Center right away. The toll-free number for the poison center is 1-800-222-1222.
Where can one get more information about botulism?