Botulism is a serious illness caused by the toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The toxin produced is considered the most potent, lethal nerve toxin known to man. The toxin paralyses the nerves that it comes in contact with, restricting the muscle’s ability to contract, which can lead to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. Botulism is considered a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated quickly enough. Food-borne botulism is very dangerous as a large number of people can be poisoned by eating small amounts of the contaminated food. Botulism outbreaks are considered a public health emergency and must be reported to the US government.
Clostridium botulinum bacteria can be found in soil and untreated water all over the world. It can create spores that live in improperly preserved or canned food. The spores produce the botulism toxin and consuming even small amounts of this toxin results in severe poisoning. Botulism has been linked to a variety of foods, mostly low-acid foods that can be home-canned such as green beans, beets, asparagus, and corn. Contaminations have also been found in honey, cured ham and pork, corn syrup, and smoked fish. More unusual sources of botulism include herbs in oil, tomatoes, chili peppers, and baked potatoes cooked in foil.
The symptoms of botulism normally occur 8 to 36 hours after eating the contaminated food. In some cases, the symptoms have appeared close to a week later. Common symptoms of botulism include progressive weakness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, difficulty swallowing, difficulty speaking, double vision, and difficulty breathing. If the symptoms remain untreated, it can lead to paralysis of the legs, arms, trunk, and muscles of the respiratory system.
Botulism can cause respiratory failure and paralysis, both of which require intensive medical care to reverse. With medical treatment, paralysis slowly improves over a period of months. Patients experiencing respiratory failure due to weakness in the muscles that control breathing may require a breathing machine along with several months of hospitalization. Patients that survive an episode of botulism report incidences of fatigue, nervous systems issues, weakness and shortness of breath for years after recovery.
Botulism is deadly and is considered a medical emergency. Prompt medical treatment can significantly reduce the risk of death. In the early stages of the illness, an antitoxin will be administered to block the toxin that is circulating in the blood. This will stop the progress of the toxin, but recovery will still take weeks of medical attention. The physician may also attempt to remove any food left in the systems by administering an enema or inducing vomiting. If the patient is experiencing breathing difficulty, a tube will be inserted in to the nose or mouth to support mechanical respiration. Fluids and nutrition will be given intravenously if the patient is unable to swallow. Nearly 60% of food-borne botulism cases can be fatal if left untreated. Any case of botulism occurring in the United States is reported to the state health authorities or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so that an outbreak can be contained and contaminated food can be removed from the market.
The Information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or legal advice. If you feel that you or someone you know has food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately by visiting your doctor of by dialing 911.
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If you or a loved one have been the victim of food poisoning, you should contact us immediately. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries by filing a food poisoning lawsuit and we can help.