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Clostridium botulinum - Botulism


Image: CDC

Botulism is caused by botulinum toxin, a poison produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

The organism is common in the soil and can survive in this environment as a resistant spore.

There are three main types of botulism - foodborne botulism, intestinal botulism (which is due to proliferation of the organism in the gut) and wound botulism.

Symptoms often begin with blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking, but diarrhoea and vomiting can also occur. The disease can progress to paralysis. Most cases will recover, but the recovery period can be many months. The disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases; death is due to respiratory failure.

Botulism is caused by botulinum toxin which is a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The bacterium is common in the soil and survives in the form of spores. Transmission may be through the contamination of food or potentially via airborne (inhalation) route in a deliberate or accidental release. Person-to-person spread does not occur.

In most cases, the symptoms are caused not by the organism itself, but by eating or breathing in the toxin. A deliberate release of botulinum toxin would most likely be via the airborne (inhalation) route or through contamination of foods. Intestinal and wound botulism would be unlikely following a deliberate release of toxin. Botulism cannot be caught from an affected or infected person.

Food-borne botulism occurs when the spores of Clostridium botulinum have germinated and the bacteria have reproduced in an environment (foodstuff) outside the body and produced toxin. The toxin is consumed when the food is eaten. C. botulinum is an 'anaerobic bacterium' which means it can only grow in the absence of oxygen; botulism is often associated with home-preserved foods, especially those preserved in oil. A very wide range of food items has been implicated. The toxin is destroyed by normal cooking processes.

Symptoms often begin with blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking, but diarrhoea and vomiting can also occur. The disease can progress to paralysis. Most cases will recover, but the recovery period can be many months. The disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases; death is due to respiratory failure.

Antitoxin is available which acts as an "antidote" against the toxin; it must be given as soon as possible for best results. It will prevent the patient from worsening, but recovery is still slow. In addition, treatment will focus on tackling the symptoms, such as supporting ventilation in the event of respiratory failure.


Image: CDC

Botulism is caused by botulinum toxin, a poison produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

The organism is common in the soil and can survive in this environment as a resistant spore.

There are three main types of botulism - foodborne botulism, intestinal botulism (which is due to proliferation of the organism in the gut) and wound botulism.

Symptoms often begin with blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking, but diarrhoea and vomiting can also occur. The disease can progress to paralysis. Most cases will recover, but the recovery period can be many months. The disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases; death is due to respiratory failure.

Botulism is caused by botulinum toxin which is a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The bacterium is common in the soil and survives in the form of spores. Transmission may be through the contamination of food or potentially via airborne (inhalation) route in a deliberate or accidental release. Person-to-person spread does not occur.

In most cases, the symptoms are caused not by the organism itself, but by eating or breathing in the toxin. A deliberate release of botulinum toxin would most likely be via the airborne (inhalation) route or through contamination of foods. Intestinal and wound botulism would be unlikely following a deliberate release of toxin. Botulism cannot be caught from an affected or infected person.

Food-borne botulism occurs when the spores of Clostridium botulinum have germinated and the bacteria have reproduced in an environment (foodstuff) outside the body and produced toxin. The toxin is consumed when the food is eaten. C. botulinum is an 'anaerobic bacterium' which means it can only grow in the absence of oxygen; botulism is often associated with home-preserved foods, especially those preserved in oil. A very wide range of food items has been implicated. The toxin is destroyed by normal cooking processes.

Symptoms often begin with blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking, but diarrhoea and vomiting can also occur. The disease can progress to paralysis. Most cases will recover, but the recovery period can be many months. The disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases; death is due to respiratory failure.

Antitoxin is available which acts as an "antidote" against the toxin; it must be given as soon as possible for best results. It will prevent the patient from worsening, but recovery is still slow. In addition, treatment will focus on tackling the symptoms, such as supporting ventilation in the event of respiratory failure.

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