Botulism is a reportable disease in Oklahoma. Botulism is a rare illness caused by a toxin that is produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. There are three main types of botulism: foodborne, infant, and wound. Foodborne botulism occurs when a person ingests preformed toxin. Infant botulism occurs when susceptible infants harbor C. botulinum in their intestinal track. Wound botulism occurs when wounds are infected with C. botulinum that produces the toxin.
Most foodborne botulism cases are the result of improperly home-canned foods, especially foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn. Wound botulism often results from contamination of wounds from the soil, gravel, or from improperly treated open fractures. Infant botulism occurs from ingestion of spores that germinate in the colon, rather than through ingestion of preformed toxin. Botulism is not spread person to person.
Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. If untreated, theses symptoms can progress causing paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and respiratory muscles. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, have a weak cry, neck weakness, and poor muscle tone (“floppy baby” syndrome), and are usually constipated. All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies.
In early diagnosis, botulism antitoxin can be administered to the patient to help prevent symptoms from worsening and can take up to weeks to fully recover. For the more severe cases that involve respiratory failure and paralysis, a patient may be required to be on a breathing machine for several weeks to several months along with intensive medical and nursing care.
How to prevent botulism:
- Persons who do home canning should follow strict hygiene procedures to reduce contamination of foods. For information on safe home canning procedures, instructions are available from county extension offices or from the Extension Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
- Because high temperatures can destroy the botulism toxin, persons who eat home-canned foods should boil the food for at least ten minutes before eating to ensure safety.
- C. botulinum may cause container lids to bulge and the contents to have “off-odors.” Commercial cans and home-canned products that are bulging or rusted around the rim or seam should not be eaten.
- Oils that are infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated.
- To reduce the risk for botulism when pickling, food items should be washed and cooked adequately, and utensils, containers, and other surfaces in contact with food, including cutting boards and hands, should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, which has been a source of infection for infants. Children less than 12 months of age should not be fed honey. Honey is safe for individuals one year of age and older.