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Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.

There are several different types of botulism.

  • Food borne botulism
  • Infant botulism
  • Wound botulism
  • Inhalation botulism


Botulism is not spread from person to person. It can be spread via air, food or water depending on the type of disease.

  • Food borne - this is caused by eating improperly preserved or cooked food; or by improper canning or cooking of food.
  • Infant - occurs when a large amount of the spore is ingested through food products, such as honey and corn syrup, normally tolerated by adults.
  • Wound - a rare instance when wounds are infected with C. botulinum. This illness is usually found in injection drug users.
  • Inhalation - there have only been three cases of this form of the disease which occurred as a result of a laboratory incident. It is caused when people inhaled refined botulinum toxin disseminated through air.


Symptoms generally occur within 12-36 hours, but can occur as soon as 6 hours after eating contaminated food. Symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness that descends through the body, predominantly affecting the nervous system. Within hours, facial paralysis begins and spreads to the rest of the body affecting breathing muscles that can cause a person to stop breathing and die.


Prompt medical attention is the key to successful treatment of botulism. However, because botulism is rare, it is often difficult for physicians to diagnose.

Botulism antitoxin is the medicine prescribed to treat botulism and can be very effective. It reduces the spread of paralysis but will not reverse paralysis if it has already set in, so early treatment is critical. In severe cases, patients may need long-term care including a ventilator to help assist breathing.

For more extensive information about these agents, please visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Page last updated: May 13, 2021