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Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, is worldwide in distribution; it is found in soil and occasionally in animal feces. Clostridium botulinum is a rod-shaped microorganism. It is an obligate anaerobe, meaning that oxygen is poisonous to the cells. However,C. botunlinum tolerates traces of oxygen due to the enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD) which is an important antioxidant defense in nearly all cells exposed to oxygen. C. botulinum does not form endospores as a way to protect the viability of the organism, but rather as a mechanism to produce the neurotoxin. C. botulinum is only able to produce the neurotoxin during sporulation, which can only happen in an anaerobic environment.
Other bacterial species produce spores in an unfavorable growth environment to preserve the organisms viability and permit survival in a dormant state until the spores are exposed to favorable conditions. In the laboratory Clostridium botulinum is usually isolated in tryptose sulfite cycloserine (TSC) growth media in an anaerobic environment with less than 2% of oxygen. C. botulinum is a lipase negative microorganism that grows between pH of 4.8 and 7 and it cant use lactose as a primary carbon source Spores of the organism are highly resistant to heat, withstanding 100 °C for several hours.
Although C.botulinum types A and B have been implicated in cases of wound infection and botulism, most often the illness is not an infection. Rather, it is an intoxication resulting from the ingestion of food in which C botulinum has grown and produced toxin. The most common offenders are spiced, smoked, vacuum- packed, or canned alkaline foods that are eaten without cooking. In such foods, spores of C botulinum germinate; under anaerobic conditions, vegetative forms grow and produce toxin. The toxin acts by blocking release of acetylcholine at synapses and neuromuscular junctions. Flaccid paralysis results. [reduced muscle tone] The electromyogram strength tests are typical.
During the growth of C botulinum and during autolysis of the bacteria, toxin is liberated into the environment. Seven antigenic varieties of toxin (A–G) are known. Types A, B, and E (and occasionally F) are the principal causes of human illness. Types A and B have been associated with a variety of foods Type E predominantly with fish products. Type C produces limberneck in birds; Type D causes botulism in mammals. The toxin is a 150,000-MW protein that is cleaved into 100,000-MW and 50,000-MW proteins linked by a disulfide bond.
Botulinum toxin is absorbed from the gut and binds to receptors of presynaptic membranes of motor neurons of the peripheral nervous system and cranial nerves. Proteolysis—by the light chain of botulinum toxin—of the target proteins in the neurons inhibits the release of acetylcholine at the synapse, resulting in lack of muscle contraction and paralysis. The proteins are synaptobrevin, SNAP 25, and syntaxin. The toxins of C botulinum types A and E cleave the 25,000- MW SNAP-25. Type B toxin cleaves synaptobrevin. C botulinum toxins are among the most toxic substances known: The lethal dose for a human is probably about 1–2 g. The toxins are destroyed by heating for 20 minutes at 100 °C.
Symptoms begin 18–24 hours after ingestion of the toxic food, with visual disturbances (incoordination of eye muscles, double vision), inability to swallow, and speech difficulty; signs of paralysis are progressive, and death occurs from respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest. Gastrointestinal symptoms are not regularly prominent. There is no fever. The patient remains fully conscious until shortly before death. In the United States, infant botulism is as common as or more common than the classic form of paralytic botulism associated with the ingestion of toxin-contaminated food.
The infants in the first months of life develop poor feeding, weakness, and signs of paralysis ("floppy baby"). Infant botulism may be one of the causes of sudden infant death syndrome. C botulinum and botulinum toxin are found in feces but not in serum. It is assumed that C botulinum spores are in the babies food, yielding toxin production in the gut. Honey has been implicated as a possible vehicle for the spores.
Mice injected with toxin intraperitoneally die rapidly. The antigenic type of toxin is identified by neutralization with specific antitoxin in mice. C botulinum may be grown from food remains and tested for toxin production. In infant botulism, C botulinum and toxin can be demonstrated in bowel contents but not in serum. Toxin may be demonstrated by passive hemagglutination or radioimmunoassay.
Potent antitoxins to three types of botulinum toxins have been prepared in horses. Since the type responsible for an individual case is usually not known, trivalent (A, B, E) antitoxin must be promptly administered intravenously with customary precautions. Adequate ventilation must be maintained by mechanical respirator, if necessary. These measures have reduced the mortality rate from 65% to below 25%. Although most infants with botulism recover with supportive care alone, antitoxin therapy is recommended.
Botulinum toxin is considered to be a major agent for bioterrorism and biologic warfare. Since spores of C botulinum are widely distributed in soil, they often contaminate vegetables, fruits, and other materials. A chief risk factor for botulism lies in home-canned foods, particularly string beans, corn, peppers, olives, peas, and smoked fish or vacuum-packed fresh fish in plastic bags. Toxic foods may be spoiled and rancid, and cans may "swell," or the appearance may be innocuous. When such foods are canned or otherwise preserved, they either must be sufficiently heated to ensure destruction of spores or must be boiled for 20 minutes before consumption.