How Common Is Botulism in the World?



Botulism is a rare, life-threatening paralytic illness caused by neurotoxins produced by an anaerobic, gram-positive, spore-forming bacterium, Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum).

C. botulinum bacteria and spores are widely distributed in nature because they are indigenous to soils and waters. They occur in both cultivated and forest soils, bottom sediment of streams, lakes, and coastal waters, in the intestinal tracts of fish and mammals, and in the gills and viscera of crabs and other shellfish.

The incidence of foodborne botulism is extremely low. Nonetheless, the extreme danger posed by the bacteria has required that intensive surveillance is maintained for botulism cases in the United States, and every case is treated as a public health emergency. This danger includes a mortality rate of up to 65% when victims are not treated immediately and properly. Most of the botulism events that are reported annually in the United States are associated with home-canned foods that have not been safely processed. Occasionally, though, commercially processed foods are implicated as the source of a botulism events, including sausages, beef stew, canned vegetables, and seafood products.

After their ingestion, botulinum neurotoxins are absorbed primarily in the duodenum and jejunum, pass into the bloodstream, and travel to synapses in the nervous system. Classic symptoms of botulism include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dryness of skin, mouth, and throat, lack of fever, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone. Throughout all such symptoms, the victims are fully alert, and the results of sensory examination are normal.

In foodborne botulism cases, symptoms usually begin anywhere between 12 and 72 hours after the ingestion of toxin-containing food. Longer incubation periods—up to 10 days—are not unknown, however. The duration of the illness is from 1 to 10 (or more) days, depending on host-resistance, the amount of toxin ingested, and other factors. Full recovery often takes from weeks to months. And, as earlier indicated, mortality rate can be from 30% to 65%, with rates generally lower in European countries than in the United States.

Botulism: Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Botulismoutbreaks. The Botulism lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Botulism and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $800 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Botulism lawyers have litigated Botulism cases stemming from outbreaks traced to carrot juice, pesto, cheese and chili.

If you or a family member became ill with Botulism after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Botulism attorneys for a free case evaluation.

News & Press


Stay up-to-date with our timely and informative News, Events, Press Releases, and Alerts. VIEW ALL NEWS