What is Botulism? Q & A with Dr. Norman Swan

botulism
Botulism is very rare in Australia due to the high standards in food hygiene and preparation.

Botulism is caused by a toxin, that’s a chemical, that’s produced by a germ, a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It’s in the same family as the tetanus family. And in fact, the botulinum toxin is very similar to the tetanus toxin, in that it affects your muscles.

But in the case of botulism, the muscles get paralysed. And that’s of course why it’s used in very small doses in cosmetic procedures to actually paralyse the muscles of the face to get rid of wrinkles and so on. But botulin itself is usually as a result of food poisoning that the Clostridium botulinum grows in food, you eat that food and you get food poisoning from the botulinum toxin and that causes muscle paralysis and often can cause death. So it’s very rare these days.

There was a famous case in Scotland where I come from, where a boatload, a rowing boat with fishermen went out on a Loch in Scotland from the hotel and the hotel had made them up a picnic with patty and the patty was infected with Clostridium botulinum. They all got botulism and they all died on the boat and it floated back to shore.

Dr Norman Swan, Physician and Journalist
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