Intestinal botulism (infant botulism)
Infant botulism is caused by spores being swallowed and growing in the intestines. The bacteria that have grown then produce a neurotoxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream and affects muscle strength. Babies up to 6 months old are more likely to get infant botulism but it can occur up to 1 year old.
Symptoms can begin 3 to 30 days after the spores are swallowed.
The first symptom is constipation lasting 3 days or more.
This can be followed by:
- reduced facial expressions
- poor feeding (weak suck)
- weak cry
Later symptoms include:
- trouble swallowing saliva, which causes excessive drooling
- generalised muscle weakness
- breathing difficulties.
These symptoms can develop over about a week.
Infant botulism is a very rare condition. Constipation and poor feeding in babies will almost certainly have another cause, but medical advice should always be sought for these symptoms.
If you are concerned that your child might have infant botulism:
- go to your healthcare provider urgently
- call Healthline on 0800 611 116,
- call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922
- go to your local emergency department.
Over the age of 1 year the intestines are usually mature enough to prevent spores growing and intestinal botulism is rare.
In older tamariki and adults, botulism occurs when people eat food that has been kept in an environment where the bacteria can grow and produce the neurotoxin. This most commonly occurs with preserved vegetables, meat and fish.
Symptoms usually develop 12 to 36 hours after eating the contaminated food.
- The first symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Later symptoms are paralysis of the eyes, mouth, and throat, and then progressively other muscles.
Wound botulism causes similar symptoms to foodborne botulism but may take up to 2 weeks to occur.