Infant botulism is an illness that can happen when a baby ingests (takes in) toxins
from a type of bacteria. Babies with infant botulism (BAH-chuh-liz-im) can have muscle
weakness, a weak cry, and trouble breathing. They need to be treated in a hospital.
With early diagnosis and proper medical care, a baby should fully recover from the
What Causes Infant Botulism?
Infant botulism is caused by a toxin (a poison) from Clostridium botulinumbacteria, which live in soil and
dust. The bacteria can get on surfaces like carpets and floors and also can contaminate
honey. That's why babies younger than 1 year old should never
be given honey.
These bacteria are harmless to older kids and adults. That's because their mature
digestive systems can move
the toxins through the body before they cause harm.
Infant botulism usually affects babies who are 3 weeks to 6 months old. But all
babies are at risk for it until their first birthday.
They also might not feed well or move as much as usual.
How Is Infant Botulism Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose infant botulism by asking about the baby's symptoms. They'll do
an exam, and might order tests to see how the baby's muscles are working.
How Is Infant Botulism Treated?
Babies with infant botulism need care in a hospital, usually in the intensive care
unit (ICU). The health care team will try to limit the problems the toxin causes in
the baby's body.
Doctors treat infant botulism with an antitoxin called botulism immune
globulin intravenous (BIGIV). They give this to babies as soon as possible.
Babies with botulism who get BIGIV recover sooner and spend less time in the hospital
than babies who don't.
If the toxin affects the breathing muscles, a baby might need to use a breathing
machine (ventilator) for a few weeks until they get stronger. It also can affect the
swallowing muscles, so babies usually need intravenous
(IV) fluids or feedings through a tube to get nourishment.
Can Infant Botulism Be Prevented?
Experts don't know why some infants get botulism while others don't.
One way to reduce the risk of botulism is to not give infants honey or any processed
foods with honey before their first birthday. Honey is a proven source of the bacteria.
If you have questions about other products to avoid, ask your doctor.