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Poisoning by botulinum toxin, one of the most potent toxins known, produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. It usually results from improperly sterilized canned (mostly home-canned) foods. Heat-resistant spores of these anaerobic bacteria in fresh food may survive canning. The bacteria multiply and secrete toxin, which remains potent if the food is not well heated before it is eaten. Botulism can also result from wound infection. Botulinum toxin blocks nerve-impulse transmission. If botulism is recognized in time, administered antitoxins can neutralize it. The first symptoms of botulism are nausea and vomiting, which usually appear six hours or less after the contaminated food is eaten. Fatigue, blurry vision, and general weakness follow. Respiratory paralysis can cause death if not treated with emergency tracheotomy and respiratory aid. Most victims recover completely if they survive paralysis. The bacteria's intense toxicity makes it a potentially deadly biological warfare agent.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on botulism, visit Britannica.com.