Botulism
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Clostridium botulinum
stain of botulism
Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. There are three main kinds of botulism. Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism 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. All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Foodborne botulism can be especially dangerous because many people can be poisoned by eating a contaminated food.
19 Dec 05

Sample Q&A: The Disease

How can botulism be treated?
The respiratory failure and paralysis that occur with severe botulism may require a patient to be on a breathing machine for weeks, plus intensive medical and nursing care. After several weeks, the paralysis slowly improves.

If diagnosed early, botulism can be treated with an antitoxin that blocks the actions of the toxin circulating in the blood. This can prevent patients from worsening, but recovery still takes many weeks. Physicians may try to remove contaminated food remaining in the gut by inducing vomiting or by using enemas. Wounds should be treated, usually surgically, to remove the source of the toxin-producing bacteria. Good supportive care in a hospital is the core therapy for all forms of botulism.

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum is the same bacterium that is used to produce Botox or Myobloc, pharmaceuticals for clinical and cosmetic use. However, what is used in Botox treatments is the purified and diluted neurotoxin A. Treatment is administered according to the needs and tolerance of the patient.