What is botulism?

  • Botulism is a type of poisoning which can cause total body paralysis, difficulty in breathing and death in some cases.
  • It’s caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, but the symptoms of botulism are not from the bacteria themselves.
  • Instead, the microscopic organisms produce a powerful toxin which attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis.
  • That poison is called botulinum – which you may know for its commercial use in Botox, which removes wrinkles by paralysing facial muscles.
  • Botulism is contracted in two ways in adults – by eating food contaminated with the toxin, or through wounds.
  • The foodborne method happens when the bacteria are tinned or stored in food in another way that deprives them from air (which is when they produce the poison).
  • This rarely happens in modern Western food production, but is what North Korea claims happened to Mr Warmbier.


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