Botulism food poisoning is a rare form of food borne illness, that occurs when improperly stored food is eaten.
Food poisoning is the result of consuming food contaminated with toxins and bacteria that are harmful to our health. Eating food that contains a specific bacteria, known as Clostridium botulinum, often causes botulism food poisoning. The bacteria produces the botulinum toxin, that can lead to paralytic illnesses. The powerful toxin spreads in the body through the bloodstream and causes harm to the nerves that are responsible for controlling the muscles.
The toxin impairs nerve functions, causing respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. Although Botulism is a rare disease, it can easily be fatal. Clostridium Botulinum is frequently found in soil and intestinal tract of fish and animals. This is a serious type of food borne disease, that occurs by consuming improperly preserved foods, particularly the ones with a low pH. These include beets, green beans, mushroom and corn. Certain conditions, such as temperatures between 4.5 and 49 degree Celsius, can promote the growth of this bacteria.
The toxin thrives in home cooked and commercially cooked foods, that are not properly preserved. Canned foods can be a source of botulism infection, if proper canning steps are not followed. The bacteria can also be transmitted through tightly wrapped and vacuum packed food. Uncured meats or those free from sodium nitrate, contain Clostridium botulinum. This is because sodium nitrate is capable of destroying the bacteria.
Infants can also contract this type of food poisoning, when they ingest honey or corn syrup as these foods contain spores of C. botulinum. However, honey is safe for children who are more than one year of age.
Symptoms are generally noticed within 18 to 36 hours after the consumption of contaminated food. In some cases, the symptoms may appear as early as 4 hours. As the bacteria affects the nervous system, the illness should be treated as soon as possible. Symptoms include
- Abdominal cramps
- Drooping eyelids
The symptoms generally aggravate and lead to
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Trouble swallowing and speaking
- Difficulty in breathing
- Muscle paralysis
If the treatment is delayed, muscle paralysis may affect the arms, legs and respiratory muscles, that could cause suffocation, which ultimately leads to death.
A physical examination is done by the doctor to look for visible symptoms. The doctors may also inquire about the food consumed recently. To confirm the diagnosis, a stool sample is taken and sent to the laboratory for further analysis. Blood tests can also done to verify the presence of toxins in the body. Certain lab tests are also performed on the food to confirm the diagnosis.
In the United States, the frequency of botulism is very less, as only 35 to 40 cases of this type of food poisoning are reported every year. The Botulinum anti-toxin is commonly used to treat this form of treatment. An anti-toxin does not allow the toxin to circulate in the bloodstream. People with breathing problems are put on a respirator. Other supportive therapy is also provided. When the patient finds it difficult to swallow foods, intravenous fluids are given.
Implementing strict hygienic practices while canning food, can greatly reduce the risk of botulism infection. The bacteria cannot survive high temperatures and so, canned food should be eaten only after boiling it for 10 minutes. Prompt treatment can definitely speed up the recovery process of the patient.