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What is Botulism?

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by the toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. This toxin affects the nerves and if untreated, can cause paralysis and respiratory failure. Botulism can be fatal if not treated quickly and properly.

How is Botulism Transmitted?

Cases of foodborne botulism often come from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria is anaerobic, which means it can survive and grow with little or no oxygen. Therefore, it can survive very well in sealed containers. Outbreaks of the botulism are often from more unusual sources such as chili peppers, tomatoes, and improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil.

Symptoms of Botulism

Some common symptoms of botulism are:

  • Double vision and drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Weak muscles

Symptoms of foodborne botulism usually begin within 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, but can occur in as few as 6 hours or as much as 10 days afterward.

How is Botulism Diagnosed?

A health care provider can use laboratory tests to identify C. botulinum toxin in your blood or stool if you are infected.

Can Botulism be Treated?

Yes. If you are diagnosed early, foodborne botulism can be treated successfully with an antitoxin that blocks the action of the bacterial toxin circulating in the blood. It will probably take many weeks before you recover.

Complications of Botulism

People who develop severe botulism experience breathing failure, and paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and muscles that help breathing. The patient may need to be put on a breathing machine.

Can Botulism be Prevented?

Yes. Some easy tips to prevent botulism are:

  • Follow strict hygienic steps when home canning.
  • Refrigerate oils containing garlic or herbs.
  • Keep baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil either hot until served or refrigerated.
  • Consider boiling home-canned food before eating it to kill any bacteria which might lurk in the food.

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