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Botulism causes, symptoms and treatment

What is Botulism

Botulism is a neurological condition caused by the ingestion of food contaminated with potent toxins. Poisoning often occurs in the home, following the ingestion of home-made products, and then canned inappropriately. Botulism is potentially fatal, but is very rare. Only a few homes are affected each year in France, about fifteen on average. It often reaches several members of the same family at the same time, but is not transmitted between humans.

Symptoms of Botulism

Vision disorders, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and swallowing and loss of muscle tone are the hallmarks of botulism. They are often confused with those of the stroke. They may be preceded by vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.

In the absence of rapid treatment, these symptoms can progress to paralysis of the arms and legs, as well as the muscles of the respiratory tract, requiring the patient to be undergoing respiratory assistance.

Symptoms usually begin 12 to 36 hours after ingestion of the contaminated food (this interval may be wider) and last from 4 hours to 8 days.

The origins of the disease

Clostridium botulinum is the pathogen of botulism. It is an “anaerobic” bacterium because it grows in oxygen-deprived environments. It produces “botulinum” toxins that are extremely lethal neurotoxins because they block nerve function and can cause paralysis of the muscles that allow breathing. There are seven types, classified from A to G. Botulism is generally associated with types A, B and E, the first and the last being responsible for the most serious cases.

Risk factors

Botulinum toxins can affect a variety of foods that have been processed and / or stored under inadequate conditions: green vegetables, mushrooms, fish, hams, sausages, etc. Canned foods made at home are often the cause of intoxication.

Food botulism is by far the most common. It should be noted however that the disease can be contracted by inhalation (during accidental or intentional events), by injury (by injection of a certain type of heroin in particular) and by intestinal contamination (in infants).

Prevention and treatment

Botulism must be diagnosed and treated quickly with antitoxin. Ventilation of the intoxicated person is necessary when the respiratory muscles are affected. Antibody injection (serotherapy) is effective in controlling severe forms if it occurs within the first 24 hours after the onset of symptoms.

The remission of severe botulism is long and requires intensive care (and respiratory assistance) for several months. However, the great majority of the patients taken care of without delay do not keep any sequelae. The disease is fatal in 5-10% of cases.

Preventive measures consist in scrupulously respecting hygiene rules during the artisanal processing of food and canning processes. A can was deformed, the food leaked, has a color or smell suspicious, squirts when opened? The golden rule: at the slightest doubt, we throw without tasting!

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