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General information

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.

Botulism - foodborne fact sheet, P-42031

Information for providers

All forms of botulism are reportable in Wisconsin

This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category I disease:

  • Report IMMEDIATELY by TELEPHONE to the patient's local public health department upon identification of a confirmed or suspected case. The local health department shall then notify the state epidemiologist immediately of any confirmed or suspected cases. Submit a case report within 24 hours electronically through the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance System (WEDSS), by mail or fax using an Acute and Communicable Disease case report, F-44151 (Word) or by other means.
  • Information on communicable disease reporting

Wisconsin case reporting and public health follow-up guidelines

The Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section of the 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 to consult with an epidemiologist at 608-267-9003 during regular business hours or the DPH emergency answering service on nights and weekends 608-258-0099.

Questions about Botulism? Contact us!
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976

Wisconsin Local Health DepartmentsRegional officesTribal agencies

Last revised December 1, 2023