Botulism is a serious illness caused by a nerve toxin emitted by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, known as the botulinum toxin. If left untreated, this illness can often cause paralysis and death. Botulism treatment usually involves the administration of an antitoxin and, in the event of foodborne botulism, emptying the contents of the digestive tract. Removal of infected tissue may also be necessary, in some cases. Hospitalization is often required during botulism treatment.
After the first symptoms of botulism appear in adults, an antitoxin usually should be administered as soon as possible. The antitoxin helps neutralize the toxin in the blood stream, rendering it harmless. This antitoxin does not reverse the illness, but it will usually slow the progression of it.
Wound botulism, which is much less common, occurs when the bacteria infects a patient's open wound. Treatment for this type of botulism often involves injecting the infected area with an antitoxin. In some cases, surgical removal of infected tissue may be necessary.
Doctors do not administer a regular antitoxin, however, to infants who are infected with botulism. The standard infant botulism treatment is generally botulism immune globulin, or BabyBIG. Administered intravenously, BabyBIG contains human antibodies collected from immunized adults. Like the adult antitoxin, it neutralizes the toxin in the bloodstream. To prevent botulism in infants, experts strongly advise parents not to feed their children honey, since it can contain traces of this bacteria.
Botulism treatment after food poisoning usually involves eliminating the contents of the digestive tract. This act will get rid of much of the toxin in this part of the body. Medication to make a patient vomit or have a bowel movement are common methods for doing this. Some doctors may even administer an enema.
An intravenous (IV), drip is often necessary during botulism treatment, especially during the treatment of foodborne botulism. During a hospital stay, an IV will help replenish fluids that have been lost during digestive problems like vomiting and diarrhea. Some patients who can't eat may need to have a feeding tube inserted.
During the hospital stay, a patient may also need help with breathing. Because botulism is a paralytic illness, there is a possibility that the muscles that help a person breathe may become paralyzed. In this case, a patient may need to be hooked up to a ventilator, or breathing machine. These machines force air into a patient's lungs via a tube inserted through the nose or mouth.