Botulism is a rare but serious condition caused ingesting harmful neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Infants under the age of 12 months are at risk infant botulism; therefore, it is essential to know how infant botulism occurs.
Babies get infant botulism after consuming spores of the bacteria. Infant intestinal tracks do not have a fully developed microbiome, so infants do not have enough beneficial bacteria in their intestinal tracks to outcompete harmful pathogens like C. botulinum.
An infant’s gut is a perfect anaerobic environment for C. botulinum to germinate, colonize, and produce neurotoxins. To keep infants safe, avoid feeding them honey or corn syrups and letting them ingest dirt (a natural environment for C. botulinum).
Foods like honey can contain spores of C. botulinum. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise parents to not give honey to infants under the age of 12 months. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an infant with botulism becomes “progressively weak, hypotonic and hyporeflexic, showing bulbar and spinal nerve abnormalities,” and “presenting symptoms include constipation, lethargy, a weak cry, poor feeding and dehydration” (AAFP).
Microscopic particles of dust containing endospores of C. botulinum is the most common yet most unavoidable cause of infant botulinum.
If your baby expresses symptoms from botulinum toxins, seek medical care immediately. Early medical intervention from a physician care is critical because eventually “70 percent of these infants will eventually require mechanical ventilation” (Schreiner et al. 1991).
Schreiner MS, Field E, Ruddy R. Infant botulism: a review of 12 years’ experience at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Pediatrics. 1991;87:159–65.