Information for Patients
Botulism is a rare but serious illness. The cause is a toxin (poison) made by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It occurs naturally in soil.
There are several kinds of botulism. Foodborne botulism comes from eating foods contaminated with the toxin. Wound botulism happens when a wound infected with the bacteria makes the toxin. It is more common in heroin users. Infant botulism happens when a baby consumes the spores of the bacteria from soil or honey. All forms can be deadly and are medical emergencies.
Symptoms include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Treatment may include antitoxins, intensive medical care, or surgery of infected wounds.
To prevent botulism:
- Be very careful when canning foods at home
- Do not let babies eat honey
- Get prompt medical care for infected wounds
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Each year, around 48 million people in the United States get sick from contaminated food. Common causes include bacteria and viruses. Less often, the cause may be a parasite or a harmful chemical, such as a high amount of pesticides. Symptoms of foodborne illness depend on the cause. They can be mild or serious. They usually include
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
Most foodborne illnesses are acute. This means that they happen suddenly and last a short time.
It takes several steps to get food from the farm or fishery to your dining table. Contamination can happen during any of these steps. For example, it can happen to
- Raw meat during slaughter
- Fruits and vegetables when they are growing or when they are processed
- Refrigerated foods when they are left on a loading dock in warm weather
But it can also happen in your kitchen if you leave food out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. Handling food safely can help prevent foodborne illnesses.
Most people with foodborne illness get better on their own. It is important to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. If your health care provider can diagnose the specific cause, you may get medicines such as antibiotics to treat it. For more serious illness, you may need treatment at a hospital.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases