Botulism is a rare, but serious type of food poisoning caused by an organism called Bacterium clostridium. The organism generally exists in a dormant state as a spore. In conditions of low oxygen and acidity, such as improperly canned food, it flourishes in a bacteria form. In high numbers it produces a powerful toxin.
The toxin enters the body through contaminated food, though in the case of biological warfare, it could be inhaled. Once the toxin has passed through the stomach and reaches the intestines, it is absorbed into the blood stream.
The toxin then leaves the circulatory system. At the point where a nerve joins a muscle, botulism toxin binds to the nerve ending and blocks normal signals for muscle contraction. This results in paralysis of the muscle.
Symptoms develop in 1 to 3 days and include paralysis of the muscles that control vision, swallowing, and breathing. If untreated, symptoms can progress to respiratory failure resulting in death. Botulism is not contagious. If you believe you have been exposed to botulism, please contact your physician immediately.