Foodborne Botulism: Clinical Diagnosis and Medical Treatment

Toxins (Basel). 2020 Aug 7;12(8):509. doi: 10.3390/toxins12080509.


Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) produced by Clostridia species are the most potent identified natural toxins. Classically, the toxic neurological syndrome is characterized by an (afebrile) acute symmetric descending flaccid paralysis. The most know typical clinical syndrome of botulism refers to the foodborne form. All different forms are characterized by the same symptoms, caused by toxin-induced neuromuscular paralysis. The diagnosis of botulism is essentially clinical, as well as the decision to apply the specific antidotal treatment. The role of the laboratory is mandatory to confirm the clinical suspicion in relation to regulatory agencies, to identify the BoNTs involved and the source of intoxication. The laboratory diagnosis of foodborne botulism is based on the detection of BoNTs in clinical specimens/food samples and the isolation of BoNT from stools. Foodborne botulism intoxication is often underdiagnosed; the initial symptoms can be confused with more common clinical conditions (i.e., stroke, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome-Miller-Fisher variant, Eaton-Lambert syndrome, tick paralysis and shellfish or tetrodotoxin poisoning). The treatment includes procedures for decontamination, antidote administration and, when required, support of respiratory function; few differences are related to the different way of exposure.

Keywords: Poison Center; botulism; diagnosis; food; intoxication; poisoning; rehabilitation; toxicity; treatment.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Botulism / diagnosis*
  • Botulism / history
  • Botulism / therapy*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Food Contamination
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy