Botulism Facts (CDC):
This material has been developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reuse or reproduction of this
material is authorized. Information updated September 2001.
Facts about Botulism
Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a bacterium called
There are three main kinds of botulism:
- Foodborne botulism occurs when a person ingests pre-formed toxin that leads to illness
within a few hours to days. Foodborne botulism is a public health emergency because the
contaminated food may still be available to other persons besides the patient.
- Infant botulism occurs in a small number of susceptible infants each year who harbor C.
botulinum in their intestinal tract.
- Wound botulism occurs when wounds are infected with C. botulinum that secretes the
With foodborne botulism, symptoms begin within 6 hours to 2 weeks (most commonly between
12 and 36 hours) after eating toxin-containing food. Symptoms of botulism include double
vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth,
muscle weakness that always descends through the body: first shoulders are affected, then upper
arms, lower arms, thighs, calves, etc. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop
breathing and die, unless assistance with breathing (mechanical ventilation) is provided.
Botulism is not spread from one person to another. Foodborne botulism can occur in all age
A supply of antitoxin against botulism is maintained by CDC. The antitoxin is effective in
reducing the severity of symptoms if administered early in the course of the disease. Most
patients eventually recover after weeks to months of supportive care.