Diseases Home > Causes of Botulism

What are the causes of botulism? The cause of botulism is a nerve toxin (botulinum toxin) that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria produce seven types of botulism toxin, designated by the letters A through G. Only types A, B, E, and F are the causes of botulism in humans.

Causes of Botulism: An Overview

Botulism is a rare but serious illness that can cause paralysis or death. The cause of botulism is a nerve toxin (botulinum toxin) that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
 

Causes of Botulism: Clostridium Botulinum Nerve Toxin

Clostridium botulinum is the name of a group of bacteria commonly found in soil and marine sediments worldwide. Their spores are often found on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables, as well as in seafood. These rod-shaped organisms grow best in low-oxygen conditions. The bacteria form spores, which allow them to survive in a dormant state until exposed to conditions that can support their growth.
 
The bacteria and spores themselves are harmless; the dangerous substance is the toxin the bacteria produce when they grow. These bacteria produce seven types of botulism toxin, designated by the letters A through G. However, only types A, B, E, and F cause botulism in humans. Botulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known to exist.
 
Once in the body, the botulinum toxin binds to nerve endings at the point where the nerves join muscles. This prevents the nerves from signaling the muscles to contract. The result is weakness and paralysis that descends from the head down, affecting -- among other things -- the muscles that control breathing.
 
(Click Botulism Types or Botulism Transmission for more information about botulism.)
 
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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