Diseases & Conditions


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Botulism, infant


Unlike BOTULISM in adults, which occurs after eating contaminated food, infant botulism occurs in babies under one year of age and is less serious. While all botulism is caused by toxins given off by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, in infant botulism the baby does not ingest the toxin. Instead, the spores from botulism bacteria reproduce the toxin in the baby’s digestive tract, which then travels to the baby’s nerve cells. Fortunately, most babies will recover with prompt hospital treatment. Some experts believe that infant botulism may be responsible for up to 5 percent of all cases of SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME. Cause This rare disease may be difficult to trace, since the spores may survive for a long time in the environment. It is clear that about 10 percent of commercial honey contains botulism spores, and occasionally light and dark corn syrup also harbors the bacteria. For this reason, parents are advised not to feed either food to infants under a year of age. The illness is found in all races, in North and South America, in Asia and Europe. In 1993 there were only 65 reported cases in the United States. Although an infected baby will excrete toxin for weeks in feces, the baby cannot pass on the infection to others. Symptoms Infant botulism symptoms include constipation, facial muscle flaccidity, sucking problems, irritability, lethargy, and floppy arms and legs. Treatment The antitoxin used to treat adults with botulism is not safe for infants. Antibiotics may be used to treat secondary infections. In severe cases, the baby may need breathing assistance; while recovery may be slow, most completely recover. Prevention Babies under age one should not be fed honey or corn syrup. They should be kept away from dust (both from vacuum cleaners and from the outdoors), especially around construction sites.