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P Samuel Pegram, MD, FACP
Sean M Stone, MD
Section Editor
John G Bartlett, MD
Deputy Editor
Anna R Thorner, MD


Botulism is a rare but potentially life-threatening neuroparalytic syndrome resulting from the action of a neurotoxin elaborated by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This disease has a lengthy history; the first investigation of botulism occurred in the 1820s with a case series about hundreds of patients with "sausage poisoning" in a southern German town [1]. Several decades later in Belgium, the association was demonstrated between a neuromuscular paralysis and ham infected by a spore-forming bacillus that was isolated from the ham. The organism was named Bacillus botulinus after the Latin word for sausage, botulus.

The microbiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of botulism will be discussed here.


The modern syndrome of botulism occurs in several forms, differentiated by the mode of acquisition [2,3]:

Foodborne botulism – Ingestion of food contaminated by preformed botulinum toxin

Infant botulism – The ingestion of clostridial spores that then colonize the host's gastrointestinal (GI) tract and release toxin produced in vivo

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 08, 2017.
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