Clostridium botulinum – Infection, Transmission & Diseases

Clostridium botulinum

Clostridium botulinum is a rod-shaped bacterium that reproduces by forming spores. There are four different subgroups, all of which make up what is known as botulinum toxin. This can also be pathogenic (disease-causing) for humans and cause poisoning .

What is Clostridium botulinum?

Clostridium botulinum is classified as a Gram-positive (responsive to the Gram stain method), rod-shaped bacteria. It is spore-forming and anaerobic, meaning it does not use oxygen for its life processes.

There are different groups of bacteria, each producing different types of botulinum toxin. Of the twelve toxin types, five are pathogenic to humans. The botulinum toxinworkson the nervous system and is one of the strongest known poisons. HisEffectis based on the inhibition of neurotransmitters ( messenger substances ) between nerves and muscles , which leads to paralysis . When the poison is neutralized, these regress.

Occurrence, Distribution & Properties

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum is rod-shaped, gram-positive and spore-forming. It has an anaerobic way of life, but is quite insensitive to oxygen. There are four different groups in total, which differ significantly from one another biochemically. However, all form the botulinum toxin, of which there are nine different types (A,B,C1,C2,D,E,F,G,H). Types A,B,F,E and H are pathogenic for humans.

Group 1 of Clostridium botulinum with the toxins A, B and F reproduces optimally at a temperature between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius, the spores are heat-resistant up to 112 degrees. Group 2 with the toxins B, E and F has its optimal temperature between 18 and 25 degrees Celsius and the heat resistance of the spores is up to a temperature of 80 degrees. The toxin types A and B are pathogenic to humans and are mainly transmitted through home-made canned meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as through processed dishes with pork products.

Botulinum toxin types E and F are transmitted to humans through fish, seafood and meat. They trigger severe food poisoning , but can also multiply in dead tissue as so-called wound botulism or in the intestines of infants as infant botulism . Clostridium botulinum also multiplies very quickly in animal carcasses, sometimes also in plant material with protein components.

The poison can be rendered harmless by heating. The temperature must be 100 degrees Celsius for at least five minutes.

Meaning & Function

The botulinum toxin A produced by Clostridium botulinum is colloquially referred to as “Botox” and is approved for medical and cosmetic use. It causes muscle paralysis. This property is used in the cosmetic sector for the treatment of facial wrinkles using injections . The effect of the Botox injections lasts about three to six months and the wrinkles are no longer visible.

In the medical field, botulinum toxin A is used to treat cramps and spastic paralysis. The toxin is also used in medicinal form for excessive sweating or salivation. Treatment with botulinum toxin can cause side effects such as infection , bruising or visual disturbances with local injections.

Diseases & Ailments

The toxin of the Clostridum botulinum is one of the strongest poisons of all. Spores can germinate and toxin production can occur, especially in airtight canned meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. This applies above all to underheated and home-made preserves. In the production of food, the multiplication of the bacterium is prevented by heat sterilization or curing.

Poisoning with the botulinum toxin is also known as botulism . This is a reportable poisoning that occurs within two hours to 14 days after consumption of the toxin-containing food. The shorter this incubation period, the more severe the course of the disease.

The effect of the poison is based on blocking the signal transmission from nerve cells to the muscles. The eye muscles are usually affected first, leading to blurred vision and double vision , the eyes closing and the pupils dilating . As it progresses, the muscles of the lips, tongue, and palate are affected. Severe dry mouth , swallowing and speech disorders occur. Symptoms typically present without fever .

If the course is severe, the paralysis spreads to the muscles of the internal organs . Diarrhea , vomiting , constipation and abdominal cramps are the result. Death occurs from suffocation if the respiratory muscles are paralyzed or from cardiac arrest if the heart muscle is paralyzed . The death rate is highest for poisoning with botulinum toxin type A, followed by type E and type B. Treatment is mainly through the administration of antidotes, which reduces the mortality rate from over 90 percent to around 15 percent. It often takes months for the paralysis to disappear.

In infant botulism, poisoning occurs through the ingestion of spores through the intestines. Up until about a year of age, the body produces too little stomach acid to kill the Clostridium botulinum spores ingested with food. These then germinate in the intestine and lead to botulism. For this reason, the consumption of honey is not recommended for children under the age of one, as it can contain spores of the bacterium.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.