Foodborne botulism is rare but potentially deadly.

The death of an El Paso County, CO, woman who died this past Sept.20 has since been officially blamed on foodborne botulism, the first death of its kind in a decade.

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes contributed to death, according to the autopsy report. Were it not for botulism, however, the 80-year-old woman could still be alive.

The source of the botulism was previously frozen potatoes stored at room temperature for two weeks. After eating the pre-prepared potatoes, the woman developed trouble breathing; her eyes bulged, her speech slowed, and her muscles became weakened.

The woman’s botulism death was the first in El Paso County since 2008.

Botulism toxins cause vertigo, blurred vision, and difficulties swallowing and can lead to paralysis and labor breathing. Low-acid produce, especially potatoes, may contain botulism spores.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States.

From 1996 to 2014, there were 210 outbreaks of foodborne botulism reported to the CDC. Of the 145 outbreaks that were caused by home-prepared foods, 43 outbreaks, or 30 percent were from home-canned vegetables. These outbreaks often occurred because home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of food spoilage, or didn’t know they could get botulism from improperly preserving vegetables.

The five main kinds of botulism, according to CDC,  are:

  • Foodborne botulism can happen by eating foods that have been contaminated with botulinum toxin. Common sources of foodborne botulism are homemade foods that have been improperly canned, preserved, or fermented. Though uncommon, store-bought foods also can be contaminated with botulinum toxin.
  • Wound botulism can happen if the spores of the bacteria get into a wound and make a toxin. People who inject drugs have a greater chance of getting wound botulism. Wound botulism has also occurred in people after a traumatic injury, such as a motorcycle accident, or surgery.
  • Infant botulism can happen if the spores of the bacteria get into an infant’s intestines. The spores grow and produce the toxin which causes illness.
  • Adult intestinal toxemia (also known as adult intestinal colonization) botulism is a very rare kind of botulism that can happen if the spores of the bacteria get into an adult’s intestines, grow, and produce the toxin (similar to infant botulism). Although we don’t know why people get this kind of botulism, people who have serious health conditions that affect the gut may be more likely to get sick.
  • Iatrogenic botulism can happen if too much botulinum toxin is injected for cosmetic reasons, such as for wrinkles, or medical reasons, such as for migraine headaches.

All kinds of botulism can be fatal and are medical emergencies. CDC  says anyone with symptoms of botulism, should see a  doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

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