Botulism: Bacteria and Commercially Canned Foods Essay

Botulism Botulism is a bacterial disease most often linked to un-sterile canned foods. It can be rather serious, as it has the potential to paralyze the respiratory system and thus cause death. The bacterium is named Clostridium Botulinum, it is a gram-positive and anaerobic pathogen. The morphology consists of rod shaped spores. The toxin is widely used in cosmetic injections, also known as Botox, to decrease wrinkles in the skin. Though Botulism is mainly linked to canned foods, the most common mode of acquisition is infant botulism. This occurs when the bacterium colonizes inside the intestines.

This happens because infants lack the normal flora needed to inhibit the growth of the botulism microbe. However, numbers are still low as there are only 80-90 reported cases of infant botulism a year. Foodborne Botulism is very rare nowadays with extreme measures being taken to ensure canned foods are sterile. The majority of foodborne cases are a result of home-canned foods and uncooked, fermented foods. Wound Botulism results from contamination of the bacterium in a wound. It is most common in drug users who are inadvertently injecting into the skin instead of the veins.

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Isolated cases have happened from spore inhalation in laboratory workers and some Botox users. When the Botulism toxin is absorbed into the blood, it blocks the release of acetylcholine at nerve synapses. Therefore the symptoms of Botulism mainly involve problems with nerve function. In most cases, the cranial nerves of the brain are affected first. These nerves control functions such as eye movement, facial expressions, chewing, and swallowing. Difficulty speaking, drooping eyelids, and double vision are the most common initial symptoms as well as nausea, lethargy, and vomiting.

With time, the symptoms spread to the arms and legs and other voluntary muscles. Involuntary muscles can also be affected by decreased production of saliva, decreased blood pressure, and constipation. If left untreated, the patient will develop difficulty breathing and possible respiratory failure. Treatment of Botulism somewhat varies with its degree of severity. However, a trip to the hospital will be necessary in almost all cases. Severe cases may require the patient to be put on a ventilator to avoid respiratory failure. If caught early, an anti-toxin is available to prevent worsening of the symptoms.

Minor surgery is often utilized to remove the source of the bacteria. After that, time and rest are needed for the toxin level to decrease and the symptoms to dissipate. Since the invention of mechanical respirators, the death rate of botulism has dropped 68%. Further, the death rate of Botulism if left untreated is roughly 60%. Increased preventative measures have been undertaken in the past decade. All commercially canned foods are required to cook at 121 C for 3 minutes. However, this only destroys the toxin and does not kill the spore.

Home canned foods with low acid content are the biggest risks for contracting foodborne botulism. Carrots, asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn being such foods. Small outbreaks from consuming fermented whale meat, shark fin, and fish heads have also occurred. The epidemiology of Botulism consists of about 110 cases a year, which includes all forms of the bacterium. Roughly 72% are infant botulism, 25% foodborne botulism, and 3% wound botulism. The World Health Organization treats every case of botulism as an emergency to help prevent outbreaks of the disease.


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