Botulism is the most dangerous type of foodborne illnesses but its occurrence is very rare. It causes paralysis and can be life-threatening. Usually, it is linked with canning fruits and vegetables at home and is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum). It releases a neurotoxin, which is a poison that attacks the nervous system. Without early treatment, botulism can lead to paralysis, breathing difficulties, and even death.


There are three major types of Botulism and this includes Infant botulism, Foodborne botulism, Wound botulism.

  1. Foodborne botulism happens when one ingests food that have been contaminated with botulinum toxin. Often, improperly canned, preserved, or fermented homemade food can cause botulism and in fewer cases, store-bought foods.
  1. Wound botulism can happen if the spores of the bacteria get into a wound and make a toxin. People who inject drugs have a greater chance of getting wound botulism. Wound botulism also occurs in people who have had traumatic injuries such as a motorcycle accident or surgery.
  2. Infant botulism can happen if the spores of the bacteria get into an infant’s intestines. The spores grow and produce the toxin which causes illness.

Causes of Botulism

Foodborne botulism

The source of foodborne botulism is often home-canned foods that are low in acids, such as fruits, vegetables, and fish. However, the disease has also occurred from spicy peppers (chiles), foil-wrapped baked potatoes and oil infused with garlic. When you eat food containing the toxin, it disrupts nerve function, causing paralysis.

Wound botulism

When C. botulinum bacteria get into a wound they can multiply and produce toxin. Wound botulism has increased in recent decades in people who inject heroin, which can contain spores of the bacteria. In fact, this type of botulism is more common in people who inject black tar heroin.

Infant botulism

Babies get infant botulism after consuming spores of the bacteria, which then grow and multiply in their intestinal tracts and make toxins. The source of infant botulism maybe honey, but it’s more likely to be exposure to soil contaminated with the bacteria.


Symptoms of botulism can appear from six hours to 10 days after the initial infection. On average, symptoms of infant and foodborne botulism appear between 12 and 36 hours after eating contaminated food.

Signs of Infant Botulism

Constipation, difficulty feeding, tiredness, irritability, drooling, drooping eyelids, weak cry, loss of head control and floppy movements due to muscle weakness, paralysis

Signs of Foodborne or Wound Botulism

Difficulty swallowing or speaking, facial weakness on both sides of the face, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps (only in foodborne botulism) and paralysis.


In most cases, botulism is easy to prevent. You can reduce your risk with the following preventative measures:

  1. Follow proper techniques when canning food at home, ensuring you reach adequate heat and acidic levels.
  2. Be cautious of any fermented fish or other aquatic game foods.
  3. Throw away any open or bulging cans of commercially prepared food.
  4. Refrigerate oils infused with garlic or herbs.
  5. Potatoes cooked and wrapped in aluminum foil can create an oxygen-free environment where botulism can thrive. Keep these hot or refrigerate immediately.
  6. Boiling foods for 10 minutes will destroy botulism toxin.

Source: WHO, Healthline, MayoClinic, Medicalnewstoday and WebMD

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