Botulism is a rare, but dangerous type of food poisoning caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. When these bacteria grow, they emit a strong neurotoxin, or nerve toxin. This neurotoxin attacks the victim's nervous system, starting in the muscles of the eyes and the face.
The first symptoms can be blurred vision, dry mouth and difficulties in swallowing. The victim might complain of double vision and vertigo and the eyelids might droop. The victim can also experience muscle weakness and speech can be slurred.
Infants and young children may appear lethargic and flaccid and become constipated. Every one of these signals reflect the onset of muscle paralysis. If treatment is not started, the paralysis advances to the throat and chest, and after that to the arms and legs, the abdomen muscles and the muscles that regulate respiration.
When the neurotoxin affects the diaphragm along with other muscles of the chest, respiration is obstructed, and if the patient is not treated immediately, she or he might die from asphyxiation.
Botulism might be identified by symptoms, but to exclude other possible disorders or sources of neurotoxins, a laboratory test must be done which requires treating a sample of the patient's blood or faeces, which can take forty eight hours to ascertain whether the bacteria is the cause.
If it is found that a person is suffering from botulism, he must be immediately made to vomit or his stomach must be cleaned. Treatment will also involve an antitoxin, a material that interferes with the action of the botulin toxin in the bloodstream.
Antitoxin treatment may prevent the illness from advancing, but the patient might still experience the debilitating symptoms for months. In case the disorder has advanced and affected the respiratory muscles, the patient might require a ventilator to breathe.
Spores of Clostridium bacteria are broadly dispersed in dirt, on the land, in lakes, in the intestine tracts of mammals and fish and in the gills of crabs and shellfish. Failure to bring food to the temperature to kill spores, contaminated canned food and uneviscerated fish have all been responsible for botulism outbreaks.