What is Infant Botulism & How is it Treated?| Causes, Symptoms, Prevention of Infant Botulism

Infants are susceptible to many infections as their immune system is very fragile. If there are bacteria or virus in food, utensils, or any substance used for the infants, it will produce toxins in their body. This creates weakness, breathing, and muscle problems in infants. Babies less than a year old are at a risk of catching infection very frequently. Germs and bacteria are found in dirt, dust and any item that is contaminated. This can lead to food poisoning in infants as well as adults.

What is Infant Botulism?

What is Infant Botulism?

In the baby’s gastrointestinal tract, a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum grows if any food or substance that is contaminated with this bacterium is consumed and causes this condition known as infant botulism. Infant should also never be fed honey, as it contains these bacteria. Infant botulism could be a life threatening disease that produces toxins inside the body and causes breathlessness in babies. Though infant botulism is a severe condition, it can be treated if detected early. Always watch for symptoms of infant botulism in babies and start treatment as soon as infant botulism is diagnosed. Due to weakness from infant botulism, the baby will not be able to move or eat or perform any action.

What Causes Infant Botulism?

Dust particles that are microscopic in nature and carry the Clostridium botulinum bacteria are responsible for causing infant botulism in infants. When this is ingested by babies via swallowing or breathing, it affects the intestinal tract of the baby. The difference between food botulism and infant botulism is that: in food-borne botulism this bacteria affects the food where as in infants botulism, it affects their intestines when they inhale polluted air or eat contaminated food. The bacterium then goes inside, starts multiplying and produces the deadly toxin in the body.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Infant Botulism?

The following are the infant botulism symptoms in babies when they are affected by the bacteria that cause this physical condition. Since, babies pass stool a couple of times in a day, in absence of bowel movement for a day or more, the parent must check the below mentioned infant botulism symptoms:

Epidemiology of Infant Botulism

Honey and soil contamination has spores of botulism, which are the main cause of infant botulism in infants. These spores are active in raw honey, soil, corn syrup, milk powder, and few other canned foods. In a research, more than five hundred samples of household dust were collected to see the presence of this bacteria present in the environment and other foods. It has also been tested that about 25% of all the honey products are contaminated with infant botulism bacteria.

In a few traditions, across the world, such as, Hispanic and European countries where raw honey and other herbal products are used often, the infants are susceptible to infant botulism. Poland seems to have been recorded to have the highest rate of infant botulism compared to any other country in the world. The second is China, with a rate of more than 200 cases of infant botulism being reported every year.

One of the most debatable prognoses of infant botulism is also linked to breast feeding. It is said that breast feeding can delay the spreading of this infant botulism toxin inside the infant’s body, before taking the infant for a clinical treatment. If symptoms like lethargy and irritability are seen in the babies, then along with infant botulism, the babies are also tested for Sepsis or meningoencephalitis. Meningoencephalitis is the inflammation or the infection that affects the brain of the infants.

How is Infant Botulism Diagnosed?

The infant is taken to a dark room and bright light is flashed into the eyes of the baby and the speed of pupil constriction is tested. Then the light is removed to let the pupil dilate. These same two steps are repeated for two to three minutes on the eyes of the infant. If found that the pupil contraction is sluggish or the maximum constriction is less than usual, then the diagnosis of infant botulism is confirmed.

In the diagnostic method for infant botulism, the light is flashed onto the fovea part of the eye, which is nothing but the acutest part of the retina of the eye. The light is continually flashed for two to three minutes into the eyes of the baby even if they divert their eyes. Latent ophthalmoplegia, which is the weakness of the eye nerve, will be detected when the light is continually flashed onto the baby’s eyes. The infant needs to blink and does not when this toxin is active in the baby’s body. This is a definitive sign of infant botulism.

In the third test, when a clean finger is placed in the mouth of the baby, without restricting the air, sucking of the finger is tested. If the sucking of the finger is weak, and if the strength of the gag reflex is weak, then, infant botulism is detected in the baby.

Further, Electromyography (EMG) is also performed to check the baby has a problem with the nerves or muscles.

Stool samples are also checked for diagnosing infant botulism, for the presence of these bacteria in the stool of the baby suffering from infant botulism.

In addition, during the diagnosis of infant botulism, the following conditions must be ruled out to ensure that the infant is only affected by these bacteria alone and there is no other underlying condition: hypotonia, sepsis, meningitis, other metabolic causes, poliomyelitis, Reye’s syndrome and hypothyroidism.

How is Infant Botulism Treated?

Infant botulism is treated by admitting the infant in intensive care unit and placing the baby on a ventilator to minimize the problem of toxins. In this environment, toxic air and toxic food are restricted. Breathing of the infant is checked. The baby is also fed through tubes because the bacterium of infant botulism restricts the swallowing of food and the food pipe from functioning normally. An antitoxin called the BIGIV (Botulism Immune Globulin Intravenous) is given to treat infant botulism. This antitoxin helps in the speedy recovery from infant botulism in babies and they can be discharged from the hospital sooner.

Always give the baby suffering from infant botulism distilled bottle water instead of tap water, as it contains fluoride, which is not good for the infant’s health. Infants are also fed with 100% pure apple or prune juice. Rice cereal is also replaced with barley cereal to treat infant botulism or when the infant is constipating. Also, organic food that does not have growth hormones or any pesticides should be given to patients suffering from infant botulism.

Prevention of Infant Botulism

Infant botulism can well be prevented by not giving foods that contain these bacteria spores. Also, keeping the environment dust free and feeding foods that are freshly prepared to the baby can prevent infant botulism. Any source of bacteria and contamination must be checked in which the infant is present as they can easily catch these spores due to their under developed immune system.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 19, 2021

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