What is infant botulism? New cases linked to honey pacifiers from Mexico

The United States Food and Drug administration is warning parents that it is unsafe to give infants honey after four babies using pacifiers with honey in them were admitted to hospitals in Texas and diagnosed with botulism.

The pacifiers were purchased in Mexico, but are available in the U.S. from online retailers.

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What is infant botulism?

Infant botulism, which affects babies up to 12 months of age, is a rare but serious gastrointestinal condition caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum spores. According to the Mayo Clinic, these spores and grow and multiply in an infant’s stomach, producing a dangerous toxin in the process.

“Symptoms of botulism usually start with weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth, and throat,” the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website. “This weakness may spread to the neck, arms, torso, and legs.”

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Infants with botulism may appear lethargic, feed poorly, be constipated, and have a weak cry.

If untreated, the disease can progress and symptoms may worsen. The illness can also significantly weaken the muscles involved in a baby’s breathing, which can ultimately lead to death.

The CDC recommends seeing your doctor or going to the emergency room immediately if you or someone you know has symptoms of botulism.

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The illness is typically treated in the intensive care unit, where doctors will work to limit the toxin’s influence in the body. An antitoxin is usually administered and most infants fully recover.

Why is honey considered dangerous for babies?

Honey is a known source of the spores behind infant botulism (Clostridium botulinum). The CDC warns against feeding honey to children younger than 12 months.

Learn more about botulism at cdc.gov.

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