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Botulism (also called botulinus intoxication) is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, which occurs in soil. There are four ways botulism can enter the body. The most common form in Western countries is infant botulism.

– Infant botulism – occurs in small children who ingest the bacterium during early stages of life. The bacterium releases the toxin into the intestine, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. The consumption of honey in the first year of life is a factor in 1 of 5 cases. 1

– Adult intestinal toxemia – adult form of infant botulism, exceedingly rare. 1

– Foodborne botulism comes from eating foods contaminated with C. botulinum spores that have been allowed to germinate. This usually occurs in fermented uncooked dishes and home-canned food substances. It usually takes 3-5 days for symptoms to become apparent. 1

– Wound Botulism occurs from contamination of a wound with the bacteria, which secretes the toxin into the bloodstream. Note: Sine the 1990’s this form of infection has become more common in intravenous drug users, especially those using black tar heroin, injecting heroin into the skin rather than the veins. 1

All forms of botulism acquisition lead to paralysis that typically starts with the muscles of the face and then spreads towards the limbs. 1 In severe forms, it leads to paralysis of the breathing muscles and causes respiratory failure. All suspected cases of botulism are treated as medical emergencies, and usually involve public health officials to prevent further cases from the same source. 1

1.Sobel J (October 2005). “Botulism”. Clin. Infect. Dis. 41 (8): 1167–73. doi:10.1086/444507. PMID 16163636.

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