Diseases Home > Botulism Treatment

If the illness is detected early, treatment for botulism may involve the injection of an antitoxin. Good supportive care and careful observation in a hospital is the mainstay of treatment. Patients who survive an episode of poisoning may have fatigue and shortness of breath for years, and long-term management may be needed to help a person fully recover.

Treating Botulism: An Overview

Botulism treatment includes:
  • Administering an antitoxin
  • Supportive care
  • Careful observation.
Antibiotics are of little use to treat the symptoms caused by the botulinum toxin, but healthcare providers use them to treat wound botulism. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved a vaccine for botulism. Research on a vaccine, however, is at an advanced stage.

Antitoxin as a Botulism Treatment

If the illness is caught in the early stages, treatment for botulism may involve the injection of an antitoxin, which is made from horse serum. The antitoxin can lessen the severity and duration of symptoms of botulism by neutralizing the toxin that has not yet bound to nerve endings.
However, because of the risk of serious side effects, such as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) and serum sickness (an unpredictable allergic reaction to the horse serum, which can lead to anaphylaxis), the equine antitoxin cannot always be used, and it is never given to infants.
Patients may still require weeks to months of supportive care, however, before they fully recover.

Treating Botulism With Supportive Care

Good supportive care in a hospital is the mainstay of treatment for all types of botulism.
The respiratory failure and paralysis that occur with severe botulism may require a patient to be on a breathing machine (ventilator) for weeks, plus intensive medical and nursing care. After several weeks, the paralysis slowly improves.
Physicians may try to remove contaminated food still in the gut by inducing vomiting or using enemas. Wounds should be treated -- usually surgically -- to remove the source of the toxin-producing bacteria.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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