Infant botulism is a potentially life-threatening condition where the bacteria Clostridium botulinum grows inside a baby’s gastrointestinal tract. The spores germinate into bacteria that reproduce in the intestine or bowel and release toxins. As the toxin is absorbed by the body, it irreversibly binds to receptors on motor nerve terminals and can lead to paralysis and respiratory failure.
In 2010, there were 112 confirmed cases of botulism reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 85 cases or 76% of them were infant botulism. Although the overall worldwide incidence of infant botulism is rare, the majority of cases are diagnosed in the United States with California and Pennsylvania having the highest rate of reported infant botulism cases. It is estimated that there could be as many as 250 cases of infant botulism that go undiagnosed and unreported each year.
New mothers are instructed not to give their baby honey until after they are a year old. The reason is that honey can contain the botulism spores. However, not many new mothers are informed that the dirt or soil around their home may also contain the spores and when there is construction or anything else that disrupts the soil, the botulism spores are released into the air and can be ingested by a newborn or infant. Most infantile botulism cases occur between the ages of 3 weeks and 8 months, but cases have been reported as early as 6 days and as late as 1 year.
Infants who develop infant botulism may start out being constipated and have difficulty sucking or taking their bottle. Other symptoms that could develop are:
- Slow breathing
- Eyelids sag or partially close
- Weakness or floppy tone
- A lack of gagging
- Excessive drooling
- Loss of head control
- Weakness or paralysis that spreads downward on the body
- Lethargy or tiredness
- Difficulty waking up
- Decreased reflexes
- Weak cry
- Respiratory failure
A definitive diagnosis can be made with the detection of botulinum toxin and the isolation of C. botulinum in a stool sample or bowel movement. A blood sample may also be obtained for a toxin assay. Other potential source samples, such as dust, soil from clothing, honey, corn syrup or foods, may also be collected for investigation.
If an infant is suspected of having botulism even before the culture results are back, they should be admitted to the intensive care unit in a hospital that is experienced in managing and treating infant botulism. If prompt or proper treatment is not initiated right away, it could lead to respiratory failure, hypoxic brain injury or even death.
Some small local hospitals that are not pediatric specialty hospitals may not think to test for infant botulism. In addition, doctors or pediatricians who trained in a state or region where there are low levels or no botulism spores in the local soil may not be aware that the spores are highly prevalent here in the Philadelphia, Bucks County and Pennsylvania region in high concentrations. The lack of knowledge about our native soil could lead to a failure to diagnose the botulism.
If there was a delay in diagnosing your baby's infant botulism you may be eligible for compensation. Please feel free to contact one of our experienced medical malpractice lawyers, doctors or nurses at (215) 866-2424 for a strictly confidential and free consultation. We have on staff two nurses that have worked in emergency rooms and pediatric intensive care units in the Pennsylvania region and are extremely experienced in childhood illnesses and injuries that occur here along the Mid-Atlantic region.