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Understanding botulism

August 20, 2014

Although botulism is a somewhat rare type of bacterial poisoning, most people have heard the term at one point or another.

However, just because the name is widely recognised does not mean people understand it. Many are confused about what botulism is, and what they can do avoid coming into contact with it.

What is botulism?

Botulism is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that is caused by infection from the bacterium known as clostridium botulinum.

This bacterium is found naturally in various different types of dirt, sediments, and soils throughout the world. However, if it accidentally breaches a cut or finds its way into our food, it can cause a number of life-threatening issues.

Varieties of botulism

There’s more than one kind of botulism bacterium that can prove harmful to humans, the most common being intestinal botulism. This type is particularly harmful to children under five, however can also be a risk to those with pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions or a compromised immune system.

While intestinal botulism is usually found in dust or soil that contains clostridium botulinum spores, honey has also been linked to cases of intestinal botulism in the United States. However, studies have shown that no Australian honey has ever contained the harmful bacterium.

Botulism spores produce a certain type of toxin, which causes food-borne botulism. The toxins attack the nervous system after being absorbed through the intestine. Symptoms generally start between 12 and 36 hours after consuming foods that have been improperly cooked, canned, or preserved.

Wound botulism, on the other hand, occurs when the bacteria enters the body through an abrasion or cut on the skin. This type of botulism is quite rare.

Symptoms of botulism

The symptoms associated with botulism can vary from one person to the next, but they often include a number of flu-like issues, such as dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulties, vision problems, trouble speaking, and issues with swallowing. In very severe cases, people may experience instances of paralysis.

While botulism cases in Australia are extremely rare, if you suspect that you may have been exposed to botulism, seek medical attention immediately.