Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The bacteria may enter the body through wounds, or they may live in improperly canned or preserved food.
Clostridium botulinum is found in soil and untreated water throughout the world. It produces spores that survive in improperly preserved or canned food, where they produce toxin. When eaten, even tiny amounts of this toxin can lead to severe poisoning.
The foods most commonly contaminated are home-canned vegetables, cured pork and ham, smoked or raw fish, and honey or corn syrup. Botulism may also occur if the organism enters open wounds and produces toxin there.
Infant botulism occurs when living bacteria or its spores are eaten and grow within the baby's gastrointestinal tract. The most common cause of infant botulism is eating honey or corn syrup.
Clostridium botulinum also occurs normally in the stool of some infants.
Approximately 110 cases of botulism occur in the U.S. per year. The majority are in infants.
Bartlett JG. Clostridial infections. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier. 2007: chap 319.
Bleck TP. Clostridium botulinum (Botulism). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2005: chap 243.
Long SS. Clostridium botulinum (Botulism). In: Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008: chap 189.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diagnosis and management of foodborne illnesses: a primer for physicians and other health care professionals. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2004;53(RR-4):1-33.
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