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Home News centre National Press Releases 2011 Press Releases ›  Cases of botulism being investigated in Scotland

Cases of botulism being investigated in Scotland

11 November 2011

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is aware of two cases of suspected botulism in children in Scotland. These cases have not yet been confirmed microbiologically but the symptoms point towards it being botulism.

As a precaution, Health Protection Scotland is advising parents to be aware of the symptoms of botulism, which include blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, headaches and muscle weakness.

Health professionals across the UK have been made aware of the suspected cases and advised to look out for people of all ages with possible symptoms.

Botulism is caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum which attacks the nervous system. There is a botulinum antitoxin available which is very effective in treating botulism when it is used in the early stages of the infection and both children have received this.

Currently there is no indication as to the likely source of the infection but it can be food-borne. The infection is not passed from person to person and symptoms usually occur between 12 and 36 hours after eating contaminated food although symptoms can also appear in as little as six hours or take longer.

The HPA is working with the Scottish authorities and the Food Standards Agency on the investigation. Botulism is rare in the UK – there have only been 33 recorded cases of food-borne botulism in England and Wales since 1989, with 27 of these linked to a single outbreak.

Dr Kathie Grant, a botulinum toxin expert at the HPA, said: “Cases of botulism are thankfully very rare in the UK although it can be a very serious infection in those that are affected.

“We have been working to gather information on the foods that the cases had eaten together with details of where these were bought. Testing of these is currently underway and if a particular food is implicated then immediate action will be taken to remove it from retail outlets and alert the public.”


Notes for editors:

1. For more information, visit Health Protection Scotland  or the Food Standards Agency

2. There are three different types of botulism:

  • Food-borne botulism - which is caused by eating food that has been contaminated with the botulinum toxin as a result of it being improperly canned or preserved.
  • Would botulism – occurs when a wound becomes infected with botulinum spores which then germinate, reproduce and then produce toxins. This usually occurs when the tissue is damaged through injecting contaminated heroin or snorting contaminated cocaine.
  • Infant botulism – is very rare but can occur if a baby swallows some botulinum bacteria spores, which then produce toxins in their intestines. Infant botulism usually only affects babies who are less than 12 months old. After this, children develop a defence against the spores.

3. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website:

4. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7901 or email . Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 020 8200 4400.



Last reviewed: 11 November 2011