Botulism Mortality Rate


Botulism is a fairly rare, but serious illness that can be transmitted through food products. Soil that is contaminated can also transmit this toxic bacterium to others, as can any exposure to an open wound. Without early treatment, these bacteria can lead to paralysis, difficulty breathing, and even death.

Infant botulism is another form of this disease which requires treatment to prevent damage to the muscles and nerves of the body.

The current botulism mortality rate depends on the form of the infection. Before 1950, the mortality rate was often higher than 60% – even in developed countries. Today these rates are seen in the reported data.

  • Food-borne or Soil Botulism: 5-10% mortality rate.
  • Infant Botulism: 2% mortality rate.
  • Wound Botulism: 1-15% mortality rate.

In undeveloped countries, the mortality rates can be much higher. Some populations see the same mortality rates today, in the 60% range, as the United States saw with these bacteria before 1950.

How Are Botulism Mortality Rates Going Down?

The primary treatment method for a botulism diagnosis is to administer an antitoxin. This allows the body to be able to block the bacteria’s toxins from having an effect on the nervous system of an infected individual. When a therapy is administered early on in the disease progression, then the results are typically quite positive.

Antitoxin therapy works by neutralizing molecules that have not bound themselves to nerve endings. Once the bacteria’s toxin has bound itself to the nerves, the treatment for a botulism infection becomes much less effective.

Even if an antitoxin therapy is effective, the individual with the infection still faces potentially serious health outcomes. Up to 10% of those who are treated with antitoxins become severely allergic or hypersensitive to it. This is even more so when a case of infant botulism is being treated.

No Vaccine Can Be Developed for Botulism

Unlike other bacterial infections, no vaccine can be developed for botulism with our current medical knowledge. When someone survives a botulism infection, they do not become immune to the disease. Bacterium-specific antibodies are not formed. This means individuals can become repeatedly infected by botulism.

Thankfully, the reported instances of botulism infections in developed countries are relatively low. In the United States, the CDC reports that about 150 cases of botulism occur annually. From that number, about 3-5% of people who are diagnosed with this infection will die from being poisoned by it.

65% of botulism cases in the US occur in infants or children under the age of 1. It typically occurs from the ingestion of bacteria on food products or from contaminated soil. Just 15% of US cases are from foodborne infections and are usually most common in low-acid preserved vegetables, canned tuna, fermented/smoked/salted fish, or meat products like sausage or ham.

Botulism is Not Contagious.

It must be ingested or the toxin must enter an open wound to cause the symptoms of poisoning. Diagnosis occurs based on the signs and symptoms of this disease and medical help should be sought immediately. With early recognition and treatment, the botulism mortality rate can continue to go down.