Botulism: Treatment Overview for Clinicians

  • Prompt diagnosis and early treatment are essential.
  • Botulinum antitoxin should be administered as soon as possible. Antitoxin does not reverse paralysis but arrests its progression.
  • Medical care providers who suspect botulism in a patient should immediately call their state health department’s emergency 24-hour telephone number.
  • The state health department will contact CDC to report suspected botulism cases, arrange for a clinical consultation by telephone and, if indicated, request release of botulinum antitoxin. State health departments should call the CDC 24-hour telephone number at 770-488-7100. The call will be taken by the CDC Emergency Operations Center, which will page the Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch medical officer on call.
  • Before administration of antitoxin, skin testing should be performed for sensitivity to serum or antitoxin.
  • After skin testing, administration of one vial of antitoxin IV is recommended. There is no need to re-administer the antitoxin since the circulating antitoxins have a half-life of 5-8 days.
  • Meticulous intensive care should be exercised, including monitoring of respiratory function and when required, artificial ventilation.
  • Recovery follows the regeneration of new neuromuscular connections.
  • 2-8 weeks duration of ventilatory support may be required in more severe cases.
  • Based on limited information, there is no indication that treatment of children, pregnant women, or immunocompromised persons with botulism should differ from standard therapy.

Important Information:

  • Clinicians caring for patients with suspected botulism should immediately contact the organizations and officials listed below:
    • Hospital epidemiologist or infection control practitioner
    • Local and state health departments. If not available, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 770-488-7100 (24/7).
  • Consult your local telephone operator or the “government listings” section of your telephone book for phone numbers of the CDC or ASTHO websites:

For more information:

Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006