Botulism is a serious bacterial illness that is caused by a neurotoxin—a substance that causes damages to nerves and nerve tissue—called botulinum toxin. Botulism is considered extremely dangerous, as exposure to even a small amount of botulinum neurotoxin can cause death.
Causes of Botulism
There are three common causes of botulism:
- Contaminated food
- An infected wound
- The ingestion of the spores of botulinum bacteria ingested by an infant
Symptoms of Botulism
Symptoms of botulism include
- Slurred speech
- Vision issues
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle weakness
Effects of Botulism
Botulism invades nerve cells and interferes with the release of a substance called acetylcholine. The release of acetylcholine is necessary for muscles to contract. Botulism can eventually cause paralysis of the limbs, trunk, and respiratory system.
As axons in the nerves are regenerated, paralysis will improve.
Treatment of Botulism
Early botulism is treated with an antitoxin that prevents the neurotoxin from spreading in the blood. Vomiting is induced for food-borne botulism, and special surgical methods are used for wound-related botulism. A special drug made up of immune globulins is used to treat babies with botulism.
Vaccines for botulism are currently being studied.