The source of foodborne botulism is often home-canned foods that are low in acid, such as fruits, vegetables and fish. However, the disease has also occurred from spicy peppers (chiles), foil-wrapped baked potatoes and oil infused with garlic.
When you eat food containing the toxin, it disrupts nerve function, causing paralysis.
When C. botulinum bacteria get into a wound — possibly caused by an injury you might not notice — they can multiply and produce toxin. Wound botulism has increased in recent decades in people who inject heroin, which can contain spores of the bacteria. In fact, this type of botulism is more common in people who inject tar heroin.
Babies get infant botulism after consuming spores of the bacteria, which then grow and multiply in their intestinal tracts and make toxins. The source of infant botulism may be honey, but it's more likely to be exposure to soil contaminated with the bacteria.
Are there benefits to botulinum toxin?
You might wonder how something so toxic could ever be beneficial, but scientists have found that the paralyzing effect of botulinum toxin makes it useful in certain circumstances.
Botulinum toxin has been used to reduce facial wrinkles by preventing contraction of muscles beneath the skin and for medical conditions, such as eyelid spasms and severe headaches. However, there have been rare occurrences of serious side effects, such as muscle paralysis extending beyond the treated area, with the use of botulinum toxin for medical reasons. Be sure to use a licensed doctor for any cosmetic or medical procedures using onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox).