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.