Clinical Guidelines for Diagnosis and Treatment of Botulism, 2021

MMWR Recomm Rep. 2021 May 7;70(2):1-30. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.rr7002a1.


Botulism is a rare, neurotoxin-mediated, life-threatening disease characterized by flaccid descending paralysis that begins with cranial nerve palsies and might progress to extremity weakness and respiratory failure. Botulinum neurotoxin, which inhibits acetylcholine release at the neuromuscular junction, is produced by the anaerobic, gram-positive bacterium Clostridium botulinum and, rarely, by related species (C. baratii and C. butyricum). Exposure to the neurotoxin occurs through ingestion of toxin (foodborne botulism), bacterial colonization of a wound (wound botulism) or the intestines (infant botulism and adult intestinal colonization botulism), and high-concentration cosmetic or therapeutic injections of toxin (iatrogenic botulism). In addition, concerns have been raised about the possibility of a bioterrorism event involving toxin exposure through intentional contamination of food or drink or through aerosolization. Neurologic symptoms are similar regardless of exposure route. Treatment involves supportive care, intubation and mechanical ventilation when necessary, and administration of botulinum antitoxin. Certain neurological diseases (e.g., myasthenia gravis and Guillain-Barré syndrome) have signs and symptoms that overlap with botulism. Before the publication of these guidelines, no comprehensive clinical care guidelines existed for treating botulism. These evidence-based guidelines provide health care providers with recommended best practices for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating single cases or outbreaks of foodborne, wound, and inhalational botulism and were developed after a multiyear process involving several systematic reviews and expert input.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Botulism / diagnosis*
  • Botulism / therapy*
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • United States