Botulism

Preston Surratt

What Is Botulism

Food poisoning caused by a bacterium (Botulinum) growing on improperly sterilized canned meats and other preserved foods.

Symptoms of Botulism

  • The Classic Symptoms:

  1. Double Vision - The simultaneous perception of two images.
  2. Blurred Vision - Refers to a lack of sharpness of vision, resulting in the inability to see fine detail.
  3. Drooping Eyelids - Drooping or falling of the upper eyelid.
  4. Slurred Speech - A symptom characterized by poor pronunciation of words, mumbling, or a change in speed of rhythm during talking.
  5. Difficulty Swallowing - Dysphagia is the medical term for the symptom.
  6. Dry Mouth - Dryness in the mouth which may be associated with a change in the composition of saliva or reduced salivary flow/have no identifiable cause.
  7. Muscle Weakness - The lack of muscle strength.


  • Infants with Botulism Appear:
  1. Lethargic - Sluggish and apathetic.
  2. Feed Poorly - Not eating as much as usual.
  3. Constipated - Slow moving; Stopped up.
  4. Have a Weak Cry - More of a quite cry; Barely even crying.
  5. Poor Muscle Tone - The amount of tension or resistance to stretch in a muscle.


These are all symptoms of Muscle Paralysis caused by a Bacterial Toxin. If untreated, all these symptoms may continue to cause paralysis of the Respiratory muscles, arms, legs, and trunk. Symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, but they can show as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days.

How Common is Botulism?

In the United States, there is about 145 cases reported each year. Of these cases, approximately 15% are foodborne, 65% are infant botulism, and 20% are wound. Adult intestinal colonization and iatrogenic botulism also happen, but not as often. Outbreaks of botulism that involves two or more people happen most years and usually comes from home-canned foods. Most wound botulism cases are associated with drugs such as, black-tar heroin injection, especially in California.

How Botulism is Diagnosed?

Physicians think about the diagnosis if the patient's history and physical examination suggest botulism. However, these clues are not usually enough information to allow a diagnosis of botulism. Other diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome, stroke, and Myasthenia Gravis can appear similar to botulism. Special tests may be needed to exclude these other conditions. These tests include a brain scan, spinal fluid examination, nerve conduction test (electromyography, or EMG), and a tensilon test for myasthenia gravis. Tests for botulinum toxin and for bacteria that cause botulism can be scanned for at a state health department laboratories and at CDC.