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Botulism is a severe paralytic illness caused by the neurotoxin produced by spores of the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. There are four naturally occurring forms of botulism (foodborne, wound, infant/intestinal and adult intestinal toxemia) and two other forms (inhalation and iatrogenic). Non-infant botulism can occur following the ingestion of botulinum neurotoxin, infection of a wound or injection site with Clostridium botulinum, or an undetermined gastrointestinal exposure to the bacterium in adults. Infant botulism (also known as Intestinal Botulism) occurs in infants less than 12 months of age following the consumption and subsequent intestinal growth of C. botulinum spores that release the neurotoxin.

Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulinum neurotoxin. This toxin may not give a bad odor or taste to food. The disease most often develops after consuming improperly processed home-preserved foods that are inadequately cooked before consumption. However, commercial foods and restaurants are still sources of sporadic botulism cases.

All forms of botulism involve the botulinum neurotoxin interfering with the nerves' ability to control muscles. Usually symptoms begin with facial muscles and may include blurred or double vision, changes in voice or cry, and difficulty swallowing. Muscle paralysis descends the body causing weakness, loss of head control in babies, and possibly respiratory failure. Urgent medical attention is necessary for anyone suspected of having botulism.

General information

Botulism - foodborne fact sheet - Hmong - Spanish
Botulism - infant (intestinal) fact sheet -  Hmong - Spanish

Information for health professionals

   All forms of botulism are reportable in Wisconsin

Additional resources


The Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health can coordinate the consultation with CDC or IBTPP  necessary to acquire antitoxin for prompt treatment of suspected botulism cases.

Local health department staff or health care providers can call 608-267-9003 during regular office hours or the DPH emergency answering service at 608-258-0099 on nights and weekends in order to consult with an epidemiologist.

Wisconsin Local Health Departments - Regional offices - Tribal agencies

Last Revised: August 05, 2014