How Do I Recognize Botulism Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
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Botulism occurs when an individual is poisoned by the presence of bacteria in the system; when left untreated, botulism can be deadly, so recognizing botulism symptoms as soon as they develop can be crucial. The infected individual may experience abdominal pain along with nausea and other gastrointestinal distress. One of the most telltale botulism symptoms is that a fever generally does not develop along with other signs.

The bacteria that cause botulism, Clostridium botulinum, can enter the body in two ways. When these bacteria are ingested in improperly prepared food, canned food, or contaminated water, gastrointestinal distress is common. Symptoms can include cramping and pain throughout the abdomen, accompanied by vomiting.

Paralysis is the most dangerous of the botulism symptoms. The individual may begin to display signs of having difficulty speaking or breathing, as well as keeping his or her eyes open. When left untreated, this may quickly turn into paralysis of the upper body, which can then spread to the extremities. This paralysis can make the condition deadly, as it can eventually spread to the internal organs and result in organ failure. Facial paralysis can also accompany the early stages of full-body paralysis.


An individual can also develop a case of botulism when he or she has an open wound exposed to the bacteria. In these cases, the individual will often develop many of the same botulism symptoms. As the disease can take anywhere from a few hours to several days to spread enough to display symptoms, it can occasionally be difficult to pinpoint the point of contamination; if it is caused by contaminated food, others in the home or family can also be at risk.

Infants and young children can also be at risk for developing the bacterial infection, and botulism symptoms can be somewhat different in children. Constipation is often one of the first signs that something is wrong; while this is not generally cause for alarm on its own, an infant who has begun to develop a botulism infection will also display signs of physical weakness. He or she may still follow objects and individuals with the eyes, but may not be able to move the head in order to keep watching.

The infant may cry, but this may be more subdued, as if the child lacks the strength to truly cry. He or she may have difficulty eating and breathing. There may also be excessive drooling and a lack of strength in controlling head and arm movements. In some cases, the infant may also show signs of paralysis similar to adults who contract the bacteria.



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