A very rare, but potentially fatal condition, botulism is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria produce potentially fatal toxins in the body that are the most powerful ones known to the world of science. These toxins can cause severe and serious illness that can be extremely dangerous. Many people confuse botulism between some sort of poisoning or some kind of an infection. The fact is that, botulism can be both.
Consumption of honey, dust and soil containing the Clostridium botulinum bacteria is the most common cause of infant botulism.
The Clostridium botulinum bacteria is found worldwide and can be found in soils, rivers, guts of animals, uncooked, canned and preserved foods. It usually gets into the body through cuts or it can also get into the body through consumption of infected food. Even a small amount of bacteria can cause severe infection and poisoning. The toxins that this bacterium releases, usually affects the nervous system and makes the muscles weak.
Can Honey Cause Botulism in Infants?
Food borne botulism is caused when home preserved foods are taste-tested. Usually, foods that are improperly canned and preserved at home are infected with this bacterium. Foods that have a very less acid content can make the bacteria contamination easy. Home canned vegetables, smoked or craw fish, cured ham and pork in the house, can also be infected with this bacterium. If you are eating vegetables that have been cultivated in a field, where the soil was infected with these bacteria and you do not clean the vegetables properly, these foods can cause food borne botulism.
Honey is yet another very common food ingredient that is highly contaminated with the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Since these bacteria spores are found everywhere, even the nectar from the flowers is also contaminated. Consuming these foods that are contaminated or have a high tendency of contamination will increase the risk of the infant getting infected with botulism.
The Clostridium botulinum bacteria are found almost everywhere, in the soil, in air as well as even in the nectar that is collected from the flowers and petals. When the bees collect this nectar and the honey is produced, the spores of the bacteria contaminate the honey. When this honey is fed to an infant, the spores get into the body, rather the digestive tract of the infant. It is there, inside the digestive tract of the infant that the spores start to produce the neurotoxin and also reproduce themselves. Although the amount of the spores present in the honey is very negligible, it can attack the digestive system of the infant as it is immature at the age of less than a year. The spores germinate in the absence of oxygen and since there is no oxygen inside the intestine, the spores reproduce and also release the toxin. It is this toxin that blocks the neuro-transmission of impulses and paralyses the muscles.
According to The American Academy of Paediatrics, honey is one of those things that can cause infant botulism. Since honey is added to a lot of other foods, all those foods can potentially cause botulism in infant. Hence, it is very important that no food that contains honey is given to the infant. As per the recommendations of the National Honey Board (NHB), honey must not be given to infants in any form, either raw or in compilation with other foods, water and formula.
Is Honey Safe for Adults?
Whereas, the contaminated honey can cause infant botulism, the spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria cannot usually survive in the matured digestive system of an adult or even a healthy child, above the age of 12 months. Since the adult digestive system is extremely acidic, the spores of the bacteria get destroyed within the digestive tract. Moreover, the spores are in little amounts in the honey and consumption of that little amount of infected or contaminated honey is not life-threatening for the adults.
Mothers, who are breastfeeding their infants, also can be relaxed as the spores of the bacteria cannot be transmitted through breast milk. The spores are too large to pass into the breast milk, through the mother's body. If the mother eats honey regularly, yet she will not pass the disease (botulism ) to her baby. Even if the mother is infected with the disease and she has to breast feed her infant baby, there is no chance for the infection to be transmitted through breast milk.
Can Honey be given to Infants and Adults with Baked Food?
The Clostridium botulinum bacteria as well as the toxin are destroyed only when the food that contains the bacteria is boiled, that is heated to 100 degree Celsius, for more than 10 minutes. Hence, baked foods like bread and cakes and other food items that contain honey in it, is not suitable for the infant baby.
If honey is contaminated with the spores of this bacterium, it is potential that it will cause botulism. Foods that contain honey should be either boiled, properly cooked over high heat for long hours, so that the toxin is destroyed.
If your infant shows signs and symptoms of botulism, take him or her to the emergency care of the hospital immediately. It is however, a very positive aspect that the extent of infant botulism is quite under control and can be treated well, provided the diagnosis is early.