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Botulism: Basic Information

Botulism is caused by a toxin (poison) which is produced by a bacterium (germ) that is found in contaminated food or water supplies. It can also be inhaled. This germ is normally found in the soil and in the ocean or lake-water sediment or silt.

Is botulism spread from person to person?

No, this infection is NOT spread from person to person. The most common source of botulism remains eating of home canned foods, which have been poorly cooked or preserved. Airborne botulism does not occur naturally. However, if the toxin is intentionally released (bioterrorism) into the air it could be absorbed into the skin and lungs and cause the same symptoms as ingested botulism.

How soon will symptoms develop (incubation period) if I have been infected with botulism?

Symptoms of botulism infection usually develop within 12 to 36 hours but can be several days after exposure. It may be as short as 6 hours or as long as 10 days.

What are the symptoms of botulism?

Early symptoms include blurred vision, double vision and a very dry mouth. The later symptoms include joint pain, trouble swallowing, trouble hearing, drooping eyelids, paralysis and respiratory failure. Usually there is no fever and the person is completely alert.

How is this botulism treated?

This infection is considered a critical illness and is treated with Botulism anti-toxin, supportive care and respiratory support, which may include a ventilator.

How is the botulism prevented?

There is not a preventive treatment for botulism. Ensuring that home canned foods are properly processed is essential. If botulism is released into the air, the local health department may tell you to stay inside and close all the windows and doors for a short time.

What should I do if I have symptoms of botulism?

You should go to the nearest emergency room immediately. If you do not have any symptoms, you should continue with your daily activities. Please DO NOT go to the emergency room unless you are feeling sick.

Should I get tested for botulism?

No. There is not a routine test for botulism.