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About botulism

Botulism is a serious, but fortunately rare disease caused by toxins from Clostridium botulinum bacteria. There are three main forms of botulism - infant botulism, food borne botulism and wound botulism.

In infant botulism, the bacteria spores grow in the baby’s intestinal tract. It affects the infants between two and six months of age.

Food-borne botulism is usually contracted through canned foods, because it is the low-oxygen environment that the bacteria need to thrive and release toxins.

Wound botulism occurs when an open wound is infected by Clostridium botulinum.

Botulism is always considered a medical emergency because all three types can have fatal outcome.

Symptoms of botulism

The symptoms of botulism usually start twelve to 36 hours after the toxins enter the body, except for the wound botulism, where the symptoms take up to ten days to start showing. In food-borne and wound botulism, the symptoms involve difficulty swallowing and speaking, facial weakness, blurred vision, droopy eyelids, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, as well as paralysis.

In infant botulism, the first sign is usually constipation. Other symptoms may include muscle weakness, especially in the neck, drooling, irritability, tiredness, droopy eyelids, difficulty feeding and paralysis.

Prevention of botulism

Since botulism is largely associated with canned and preserved foods, the major part of the prevention regards the canning and preservation techniques. When canning foods at home, it is very important to pressure cook them for at least 30 minutes at high temperature, to use sterile and tightly closed jars and containers and to consider boiling canned foods for ten minutes before serving them.

Precaution is also necessary when eating store-bought canned foods. If the lid is bulging or if the food smells bad, it should not be eaten. The problem with botulism, however, is that it does not necessarily make the food smell bad, so one should not rely only on the smell. Buying the canned foods only from the trusted brands is one way to prevent this serious illness.

Potatoes wrapped in foil before baking should be eaten hot or refrigerated. Oils infused with herbs or garlic should be kept in the refrigerator.

As for the prevention of infant botulism, it is recommended not to give them any honey at all until they turn one year of age.

Wound botulism can be prevented by cleaning the wounds properly and by having them examined by a medical professional. Would botulism is also associated with inhaling or injecting street drugs, and those, obviously, should be avoided.

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