Botulism Infection (Botulinum Toxin Disease)

Most of us think about cosmetic injections to remove unwanted wrinkles when we hear about botulinum toxin. It also has benefits for other applications like excessive sweating or enlarged muscles that are in spasm like with the cheek muscles from clenching. Commonly referred to as Botox, this toxin does have certain cosmetic benefits when used medically. However, it is also a toxin responsible for a certain type of bacterial infection that can be deadly if not treated promptly.

What is botulism?

Botulism is a rare type of paralytic disorder which could lead to death if not managed timely. This disease is caused by the toxin released by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Presenting symptoms of botulism include increased tiredness, visual problem like double vision, inability to speak or walk properly. Sometimes weakness may progress to muscles of arms, chest and the legs although throughout the course of the disease patient does not lose consciousness.

There are different forms of botulism. The most common form is infant botulism, foodborne botulism and wound botulism. This largely describes the affected group and spread of the infection.  All the forms of botulism is considered to be medical emergency and can be fatal. It should be treated immediately. If used in small medically-prepared doses then there is no major health risk as is seen with Botox injections for cosmetic purposes.

Botulism Symptoms

Although the principal presenting features are more or less similar among the different forms of botulism, there are certain presenting features specific to the type of botulism.

Food Botulism

In case of food borne botulism the symptoms usually appear within 18 and 36 hours after the entry of the toxin into the digestive tract. However, the timing of appearance of symptoms may vary based upon the amount of ingested toxin. Difficulty swallowing, trouble with talking, impairment of eyelids, limb paralysis and labored breathing are some of the symptoms.

Wound Botulism

Wound botulism is more commonly seen in drug addicts who use the intravenous route to inject drugs like heroin. Presenting symptoms of the wound botulism is more or less similar to foodborne botulism. This includes impaired swallowing or speech, inability to open the eyes properly due to drooping of eyelids, difficulty in breathing and paralysis of different limbs. Fever may be present.

Infant Botulism

Similar to food borne botulism symptoms of infant botulism become apparent within 18 and 36 hours especially after taking oral honey. Presenting symptoms include constipation, floppy movement, irritability, weak cry, drooling, increased tiredness and the inability to feed.
Usually a fever does not accompany the symptoms of botulism other than wound botulism.

Causes of Botulism

Infant botulism occurs after the ingestion of bacterial spore which germinate into full blown bacteria and starts releasing the toxin. The most common source is honey. However, any food item contaminated with soil bacteria pose a threat. Home canned food like beets, corns and seafood can also lead to botulism in time due to inadequate sterilization and preservation.

Wound botulism tends to occur after an injury. The botulinum bacteria may enter the body through insignificant cut marks on the skin. Despite the toxic effects of botulinum toxin this product is used to reduce facial wrinkles, eyelid problems, excessive sweating and so on. This toxin affects the muscle function. Any muscle in the body can be affected and signs of toxicity can arise with high doses.

Botulinum Toxicity Treatment

In the case of food borne botulism the exit of the toxin out of the digestive tract is facilitated by inducing vomiting and hastening bowel movements. With wound botulism the affected tissue is removed surgically. In infant botulism, the botulism immunoglobulin is prescribed.

The specific antidote of botulism is antitoxin. Once it enters the body it can neutralize the toxin present in the bloodstream. However,the damage already caused by the toxin cannot be reversed.

Assisted breathing is often required until the ill effects of the toxin wear off. Affected people are also required to attend rehabilitation programs to normalize speech, swallowing and limb movements.

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