Botulism Description Botulism is a rare but very serious paralytic illness that is caused by botulinum toxin(potentially deadly neurotoxin) which is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The botulinum toxin can enter the body in 3 main ways: by the ingestion of the toxin from eating foods that contain the botulism toxin (food borne botulism), by the contamination of a wound by the bacterium in which the toxin is produced (wound botulism) and Infant botulism which is caused by consuming the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release the toxin. The powerful exotoxin (botulinum toxin) leads to secretory diarrhea. All forms of botulism can be fatal and are therefore considered to be medical emergencies. Food borne botulism can be very dangerous because there is not a single person at risk but instead many people can be poisoned by the consumption of contaminated food. What kind of a germ is Clostridium botulinum? Clostridium botulinum is a gram positive rod shaped bacteria and is part of a group of bacteria which are commonly found in soil all over the world. These rod shaped anaerobic organisms grow best in low or absent oxygen conditions. Clostridium botulinum forms spores which provide them with the ability of surviving in a dormant state until they are exposed to conditions that support their growth. As spores they are able to survive the inhospitable conditions of the stomach in their transit to the large intestine. They are commonly found in foods such as honey though they are not usually harmful to adults. The spores that do pass to the colon and are able to germinate cannot compete with the normal microflora and do not thus cause disease. In the case of infants, however the ingested spores can germinate and grow in the colon due to the lack of development of the resident microflora. The Clostridium botulinum spores germinate and produce botulism toxin. There are seven types of botulism toxin, which are toxins A through G. However only types A, B, E (rarely F) are the most in that produce the flaccid paralysis in humans. The other types mainly cause disease in animals. Most Clostridium species produce only one type of neurotoxin. What are the symptoms of botulism? The common symptoms associated with Botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, blurred vision, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. After being examined by a doctor his examination may show the gag reflex and the deep tendon reflexes like the knee jerk are either decreased or even absent. Infants who have botulism may appear to be lethargic, weak, and have floppy movements due to muscle weakness and trouble controlling the head. Infants may eat poorly, become constipated, have a weak cry, poor muscle tone and difficulty sucking or feeding. Many of these symptoms are part of the muscle paralysis that is caused by the bacterial neurotoxin. If these symptoms are untreated they may cause paralysis in the various parts of the body. The most often paralysis seen is as the descending paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk and the breathing muscles. Causes Food boune botulism takes place when you eat food containing the toxin and it disrupts nerve function, causing paralysis. The source of the food-borne botulism is often by foods that were canned or preserved at home. Many people pick fruits and vegetables from the garden in the summer months and jarred them so they can eat them during the winter months. These foods need to be cooked at very high temperatures to kill the bacteria. If not cooked at very high temperature the bacteria Clostridium botulinum can cause botulism in the people who eat the food. It is also common in canned foods that are low in acid, such as green beans, corn and beets.
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