Botulinum toxin and botulism
Botulinum toxin is a poisonous substance produced by a type of bacteria that occurs naturally in soil. The toxin can cause botulism, a rare but serious infection that affects the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves). Botulism can cause paralysis or death.
The three main types of botulism are:
- Infant botulism occurs when an infant ingests spores of the bacteria from contaminated soil or food, especially honey.
- Food-borne botulism occurs when people ingest the toxin in foods that have been improperly preserved, canned or cooked.
- Wound botulism occurs when a wound becomes infected with the bacteria, usually through intravenous drug use, and produces the toxin.
Common symptoms of botulism in infants, children and adults include:
- Nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
- Double or blurred vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty swallowing and speaking
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Constipation (in infants)
Your physician will first perform a physical exam and discuss your medical history. Tests that can help rule out other conditions and confirm a diagnosis of botulism include:
- Blood or stool cultures to look for botulinum toxin or bacteria
- Tests of the food you ate to look for the toxin or bacteria
- Lumbar puncture to test fluid near the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) for bacteria
- Nerve conduction test (electromyography, or EMG) to evaluate muscle function