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Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves and causes difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death. This toxin is made by Clostridium botulinum and sometimes Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium baratii bacteria. These bacteria can produce the toxin in food, wounds, and the intestines of infants.

Botulism is a rare, but serious disease. Most people will go through their entire lives without getting sick with botulism.

Certain actions can increase risk of getting sick with botulism.

  • People who inject certain drugs, such as black tar heroin, put themselves at greater risk of getting wound botulism.
  • People who eat home-canned or home-fermented foods that haven’t been prepared safely also have a greater chance of becoming seriously sick. These foods may include many home-canned vegetables and meats.
  • People who get botulinum toxin injections for cosmetic reasons (such as for wrinkles) or medical reasons (such as for migraine headaches) may be more likely to get iatrogenic botulism if the dose they receive is too large, if they are children or weigh less than a typical adult, or if they have an underlying problem with their nerves or muscles.

Botulism is a reportable disease in Oklahoma.

  • Persons who do home canning should follow strict hygiene procedures to reduce contamination of foods. For information on safe home canning procedures, instructions are available from county extension offices or from the Extension Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
  • Because high temperatures can destroy the botulism toxin, persons who eat home-canned foods should boil the food for at least ten minutes before eating to ensure safety.
  • C. botulinum may cause container lids to bulge and the contents to have “off-odors.” Commercial cans and home-canned products that are bulging or rusted around the rim or seam should not be eaten.
  • Oils that are infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated.
  • To reduce the risk for botulism when pickling, food items should be washed and cooked adequately, and utensils, containers, and other surfaces in contact with food, including cutting boards and hands, should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, which has been a source of infection for infants. Children less than 12 months of age should not be fed honey. Honey is safe for individuals one year of age and older.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of botulism, immediately see your doctor, or go to the emergency room.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves. Symptoms of botulism usually start with weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth, and throat. This weakness may spread to the neck, arms, torso, and legs. Botulism also can weaken the muscles involved in breathing, which can lead to difficulty breathing and even death.


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