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Definition Return to top
Infant botulism is a potentially life-threatening disease in which the bacteria Clostridium botulinum grows within the baby's gastrointestinal tract.
Causes Return to top
Clostridium botulinum is a spore-forming organism that is common in nature. The spores may be found in soil and certain foods (such as honey and some corn syrups).
Infant botulism occurs mostly in young infants between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. It has been reported to occur as early as 6 days and as late as 1 year.
Risk factors include swallowing honey as a baby, being around contaminated soil, and having less than one stool per day for a period greater than 2 months.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor may note decreased muscle tone, a missing or decreased gag reflex, missing or decreased deep tendon reflexes, and eyelid drooping.
A stool sample from the baby may be examined to check for the botulinum toxin or bacteria.
Electromyography (EMG) can be done to help tell the difference between muscle and neurological problems.
Treatment Return to top
Botulism immune globulin is the main treatment for this condition. Infants that receive this treatment have shorter hospital stays and less severe illness.
Any infant with botulism must receive supportive care during their recovery. This includes:
If breathing problems develop, breathing support, including the use of a breathing machine, may be needed.
Antibiotics do not appear to help the baby improve any faster, and are not needed unless another bacterial infection such as pneumonia develops.
The use of human-derived botulinum antitoxin may also be helpful.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Full recovery is expected with early recognition and supportive treatment. Death or permanent disability may result in complicated cases.
Possible Complications Return to top
Respiratory insufficiency can develop, requiring assistance with breathing (mechanical ventilation).
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Since infant botulism can be life threatening, go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) immediately if your infant has symptoms of botulism.
Prevention Return to top
Theoretically, the disease might be avoided by preventing exposure to spores. Since honey and corn syrup are sources of Clostridium spores, they should not be fed to infants less than 1 year old.Update Date: 10/8/2007 Updated by: Deirdre O’Reilly, MD, MPH, Neonatologist, Division of Newborn Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston and Instructor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.