Why Botulism Is the Most Dangerous Food-borne Illness
Botulism is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial illness. Clostridium Botulinum bacteria grows on food and produces toxins that, when ingested, cause paralysis. Botulism poisoning is extremely rare, but so dangerous that each case is considered a public health emergency. Studies have shown that there is a 35 to 65 percent chance of death for patients who are not treated immediately and effectively with botulism antitoxin.
Botulism neurotoxins prevent neurotransmitters from functioning properly. This means that they inhibit motor control. As botulism progresses, the patient experiences paralysis from top to bottom, starting with the eyes and face and moving to the throat, chest, and extremities. When paralysis reaches the chest, death from inability to breathe results unless the patient is ventilated. Symptoms of botulism generally appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. With treatment, illness lasts from 1 to 10 days. Full recovery from botulism poisoning can take weeks to months. Some people never fully recover.
If found early, botulism can be treated with an antitoxin that blocks circulation of the toxin in the bloodstream. This prevents the patient’s case from worsening, but recovery still takes several weeks.
If a patient displays symptoms of botulism, a doctor will most likely take a blood, stool, or gastric secretion sample. The most common test for botulism is injecting the patient’s blood into a mouse to see whether the mouse displays signs of botulism, since other testing methods take up to a week.
In general, symptoms of botulism poisoning include the following:
Dry skin, mouth and throat
Lack of fever
The majority of botulism patients never fully recover their pre-illness health. After three months to a year of recovery, persisting side-effects are most likely permanent. These long-term effects most often include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, dry mouth, and difficulty performing strenuous tasks. Patients also report a generally less happy and peaceful psychological state than before their illness.