Wound Botulism: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Wound botulism is a very serious disease caused when ''Clostridium botulinum'', a type of bacteria, infects a wound. Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for wound botulism.

Wound Botulism

David is a 34-year-old accountant who loves to hunt. During a recent hunting trip, David accidentally cut his arm pretty badly while he was climbing a tree. Even though the cut was pretty deep, David did not go to the hospital or properly care for the wound. Over the next several days, he mostly just left it alone.

About two weeks later, David started to feel really tired. He was having difficulty seeing and talking, and felt weakness in his legs, arms, and chest. David finally decided to go to the hospital to get checked out.

After running several tests, the doctor informed David that he had wound botulism, a potentially life threatening condition.

Wound Botulism: Causes

Wound botulism is a very serious disease caused by the Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum for short) bacteria infecting a wound. The skin functions as a protective barrier that protects the body from various bacteria, viruses, and organisms that can harm the body. However, when the skin is damaged or cut, there is a breakdown of this protective barrier that allows these harmful organisms to enter the body.

Wound botulism is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria.

When David cut his arm, C. botulinum and other organisms were able to enter his body through the open wound.

It should be noted that injecting drugs, especially illegal drugs, is a fairly common cause of wound botulism. Often times, the needles used to inject these drugs are contaminated with various bacteria and organisms, including C. botulinum, which may infect the injection site. Those who inject black tar heroin are the most likely sufferers of wound botulism.

Wound Botulism: Symptoms

Symptoms of wound botulism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty seeing, talking, and swallowing
  • Drooping or sagging face
  • Paralysis

Botulism can even be life-threatening, causing death in 5-10% of the people who are infected with the bacteria.

Wound Botulism: Treatment

One of the most important parts of treating botulism is to prevent the C. botulinum bacteria from infecting the wound in the first place. This is accomplished by taking proper care of a wound.

What David should have done was clean the cut immediately with water and a mild soap. Then he should have applied an antibiotic cream to help to destroy any bacteria, and covered the wound with a bandage to protect it from additional exposure to bacteria.

Prevent botulism by first cleaning the wound with soap and water.
hand washing

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