Clostridium botulinum spores are common in the environment, they're often found in soil and environmental water. Under the right conditions, which include lack of oxygen, C. botulinum germinates and produces a toxin. If this toxin is ingested it targets the nervous system and causes botulism.
There are three main types of botulism.
This is caused by the production of toxin by C. botulinum spores introduced into wounds. This is often associated with dirty wounds, including following injecting drug use.
This is caused by the production in the gut of toxin by C. botulinum spores which have been ingested and have proliferated as bacterial cells. This form predominantly affects infants under one year old, and is rare, although when cases have occurred they have mainly been associated with the consumption of honey.
This is caused by the ingestion of preformed toxin in food. Food-borne botulism usually results from inadequately sterilised domestically canned or preserved foods, although cases and outbreaks have resulted from inadequately processed commercially produced foods.
In the UK, food-borne botulism is rare.
More information on the types of botulism, its symptoms, and prevention is available on the NHS website.
- Advice on infant botulism and not giving children under one year of age honey is available from NHS inform.
- Information on the safe handling of food is available on the Food Standards Scotland website.
- View our guidance on the public health management of tetanus, botulism or anthrax among people who use drugs.