Botulism is a life threatening condition caused by a neurotoxin “botulinum”. It is a toxin produced by the bacterium “clostridium botulinum” and acts mainly on the nervous system of a human body. This condition is considered as a medical emergency.
There are three forms of this disease:
- Foodborne botulism:
It is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin. It is mostly seen in canned food. Contamination of this foods with clostridium bacteria is the root cause. It presents as a food poisoning.
- Wound botulism:
When a wound gets contaminated with soil containing the spores of clostridium botulinum bacterium. These spores germinate in the wound and produce the toxin giving rise to botulism.
- Infant botulism:
This condition is the most fatal of the lot. The ingested bacterium affects the gastrointestinal tract of a baby. The source of the infection is mostly honey in infants. It is commonly seen in the babies of age group between 2 months to 8 months. It is also known as floppy baby syndrome.
Following symptoms are commonly present in a case of botulism:
- Muscle weakness
- Double vision
- Drooping of the eyelids
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Dry mouth and throat
- Nausea, vomiting
- Decreased rate of respiration
- Respiratory failure
- Paralysis starts from upper body descends to lower body
- History: the doctor will take detailed history about the food that you have digested and recent injury that you have suffered. History of honey ingestion in the infants is very important finding if present.
- Clinical examination: the doctor checks for the signs of muscle weakness and paralysis.
- Blood, vomit and stool analysis: it is done to detect the presence of toxin in the body.
These tests though take days to identify the toxin, hence the clinical diagnosis by a doctor is the most important diagnostic test.
It is considered as a medical emergency. Sooner the treatment is started better are the chances of the patient surviving.
- For food borne botulism:
- Vomiting: vomiting is induced to remove the unabsorbed toxin from the body.
- Medications to hasten bowel movements: to empty the intestines and clear the toxin from the body.
- For wound botulism:
- As much as infected tissue of the wound is removed. It may also involve surgery sometimes.
Anti-toxin against botulinum toxin is injected. It reduces the risk and extent of complications. But, the anti-toxin cannot reverse the damage already happened due to the toxin.
Immunoglobulin are preformed anti bodies prepared against the botulinum toxin. They are commonly used in cases of infant botulism for a quicker action.
Anti-biotics can be prescribed for wound botulism where all the infected wound has been surgically debrided.
- Breathing assistance:
If the patient feels breathless and is finding trouble in breathing, then mechanical ventilation is done.
Speech, swallowing and other affected functions can be improved by rehabilitation.
- Use of proper cooking techniques.
- Never eat canned food uncooked.
- Do not eat canned food after the expiry date or if the container is bulging.
- Avoid giving honey to children less than 1 year of age.
- While preserving food at home, special care should be taken regarding the hygiene, pressure, temperature and storage.
If not diagnosed as early as possible, botulism can even cause death. Hence, proper prevention methods should be used while preserving the food.