Botulinum toxin and botulism

What Is botulinum toxin?

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.

Types of botulism

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.

Symptoms of botulism

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)

How is botulism diagnosed?

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

(888) 321-DOCS

Make an appointment

To make an appointment with an infectious disease physician, call (888) 321-3627. Representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your call.