Additional Information on Infant Botulism
Parents and other caregivers can prevent babies from acquiring infant botulism from one source -- honey. California researchers have isolated C. botulinum spores from about 10 percent of store-bought honey samples, and although less than 5 percent of infants contract botulism from honey, health officials and pediatricians agree that honey should not be fed to infants less than one year of age (it is perfectly safe for older children and adults).
(Click Botulism in Honey for more information.)
The first sign that an infant has botulism is usually constipation, although this is not always noticeable to parents. Often, the baby is not brought to a doctor until parents notice other symptoms, such as lethargy and poor feeding, as the paralysis begins to affect the baby's gag reflex and swallowing ability. Poor muscle tone (see Pictures of Botulism) and a weak cry are also possible symptoms.
In order to diagnose infant botulism, the doctor will ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam, looking for signs and symptoms. If the doctor suspects the disease, he or she will send a blood or stool sample to a specialized laboratory for analysis.
Because infant botulism occurs rarely and the symptoms are similar to other diseases, diagnosis is difficult and the condition is frequently misdiagnosed.
The infant botulism fatality rate is less than 2 percent, and recovery is usually complete. Often, however, infants have to spend weeks or months on a ventilator. Horse-derived antitoxin is not given because of the risk of side effects, such as anaphylaxis and serum sickness.