Adult Botulism


  • Clostridium botulinum produces toxin that blocks Ach release from presynaptic membrane
    • Ingestion of preformed heat-labile toxin
  • Cases due to:
    • Improper (home) canning
    • Black-tar heroin use
    • Wound infection (contaminated wounds, C-section, tooth abscess, sinus infection)
  • Symptoms begin 6-48 hr after exposure

Clinical Features

  • GI
    • nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea or constipation
    • Not seen in patients who contract botulism from heroin or contaminated wound
  • Neuro
    • Vertigo is common
    • Symmetrical descending weakness leading to flaccid paralysis
    • Cranial nerves and bublar muscles are affected first: diplopia, dysarthria, dysphagia, poor gag reflex
    • Blurred vision and ptosis
    • Decreased deep tendon reflexes
      • Will progress to respiratory depression if not treated
  • Anticholinergic signs
    • Decreased salivation: due to cholinergic fiber blockage
      • Dry mouth, painful tongue, sore throat
    • Urinary retention, dry skin/eyes, hyperthermia
  • Dilated pupils (in contrast to patients with MG)

Infantile Botulism


  • Due to consumption of botulinum spores
    • Ingestion of honey, corn syrup, and vacuum/environmental dust
    • Higher GI tract pH of infants makes them more susceptible
  • Most cases occur in <1 yr, 90% occur in <6 mo

Clinical Features

  • Floppy Baby Syndrome
    • Loss of facial expression
    • Noticeable neck and peripheral weakness
  • GI symptoms
    • Poor feeding
    • Constipation
    • Decreased suckling
  • Other
    • Lethargy
    • Weak cry

Differential Diagnosis


Bioterrorism Agents[1]

Category A

Category B

  • Ricin
  • Brucellosis
  • Epsilon toxin
  • Psittacosis
  • Q Fever
  • Staph enterotoxin B
  • Typhus
  • Glanders
  • Melioidosis
  • Food safety threats
  • Water safety threats
  • Viral encephalitis

Category C


Contact CDC Emergency Hotline 1-707-488-7100 for all suspected bioterrorism cases

Supportive Care

  • Early ventilatory support
    • Consider intubation when vital capacity <30% predicted or <12cc/kg
  • Wound Managment
    • Early wound debreedment with surgical consult.
    • Also exclude Necrotizing fasciitis and coverage with same broad antibiotic coverage

Foodborne Botulism

  • Equine Serum Botulism Antitoxin
    • only for patients > 1yo
  • Antitoxin obtained through CDC or local Department of Health.

Infant Botulism (<1yo)

  • Human-based Botulism IG 100mg/kg IV x 1 dose (BabyBIG)
    • infusion divided into 25mg/kg/hr IV x 15 min followed by 50mg/kg/hr if no allergic reactions
    • Stop infusion after total of 100mg/kg infused
  • BabyBIG obtained through CDC or local Department of Health

Inhalational Botulism

  • Equine Serum Botulism Antitoxin
    • only for patients > 1yo
  • Antitoxin obtained through CDC or local Department of Health

Wound Botulism

  • Individualize therapy with ID consultant
  • Broad antibiotic coverage same as for Necrotizing fasciitis while awaiting wound cultures


  • Admit to ICU
  • Consider ID Consult


See Also