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Questions and answers on botulism

Updated BfR FAQ, 23 January 2015

Botulism is a severe illness which is caused by toxins, the so-called “Botulinum toxins”. Under certain conditions, the toxins are released in food or feed by bacteria of the species Clostridium (C.) botulinum and then ingested with food. In rare cases, the germ itself can trigger botulism. The illness typically leads to specific neurological problems, for example, impaired vision, dry mouth, or difficulty speaking and swallowing, and it may be fatal. Both humans and animals are affected, including production animals, notably cattle but also poultry such as broilers and turkeys.

Since the mid 1990s, reports have additionally appeared in scientific publications on so-called visceral or chronic botulism in cattle populations. This is a disease the causes of which are as yet unknown and which was initially observed in high-performance cattle but also in calves. The disease is documented with a wide range of clinical symptoms. The clinical pictures described have not been scientifically verified yet. It is assumed that the cause is a toxicoinfection with botulinum. However, this cause has not been conclusively proven to the present day. Toxicoinfection means that the bacteria colonise the intestine where they release toxins which are then absorbed by the body.

In humans too, chronic syndromes are observed. It affects farmers and their families in whose facilities cattle have contracted the disease. The cause of the typically non-specific symptoms in affected humans has not been established to date either.

Below, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) answers questions on the subject of botulism.

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23.01.2015
Updated BfR FAQ
Questions and answers on botulism 34.8 KB
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