Botulism During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: A Systematic Review

Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Dec 27;66(suppl_1):S30-S37. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix813.


Background: Maternal and fetal outcomes associated with botulism and botulinum antitoxin use during pregnancy and the postpartum period have not been systematically reviewed.

Methods: We searched Global Health, Cochrane Library, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, and Medline databases from inception to May 2015 for studies published on botulism or botulinum antitoxin use during pregnancy and the postpartum period, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Botulism Surveillance database. Our search identified 4517 citations.

Results: Sixteen cases of botulism during pregnancy (11 in the third trimester) and 1 case during the postpartum period were identified. Ten cases were associated with confirmed or likely foodborne exposure; 2 cases were attributed to wound contamination related to heroin use, and the source of 5 cases was unknown. Eleven women with botulism had progressive neurologic deterioration and respiratory failure, requiring intensive care unit admission. Four women had adverse outcomes, including 2 deaths and 2 women who remained in a persistent vegetative state. No neonatal losses or cases of congenital botulism were reported. Among the 12 cases that reported neonatal data, 6 neonates were born preterm. No adverse maternal or neonatal events were identified as associated with botulinum antitoxin therapy among 11 patients who received it.

Conclusions: Our review of 17 cases of botulism in pregnant/postpartum women found that more than half required ventilator support, 2 women died, and 6 infants were born prematurely. A high level of clinical suspicion is key for early diagnosis and treatment of botulism. Care of pregnant women or new mothers with botulism can include preparation for possible intubation.

Keywords: botulism; postpartum; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Botulinum Antitoxin / therapeutic use
  • Botulism* / complications
  • Botulism* / diagnosis
  • Botulism* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Fetal Diseases / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / drug therapy
  • Puerperal Infection* / diagnosis
  • Puerperal Infection* / drug therapy


  • Botulinum Antitoxin
  • Immunologic Factors