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Infant Botulism and the Honey Connection

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Ahh, Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly approaching, and gifts of honey seem to be popular.  Honey is a staple food around our house.  My husband enjoys it at breakfast on rolls…and at lunch and dinner, as well!  Honey is a great ingredient in many desserts, and even as a beverage sweetener.  However, there are some cautions for parents of small children when it comes to serving them honey.

Tragic stories around infant botulism have popped up over the past couple of years and reading them is like a gut-punch.  Infant botulism risks exists with all honey, pasteurized or not.  Infant botulism occurs when Clostridium botulinum spores are ingested and colonize the intestines of infants under 12 months old.  The spores are able to germinate and grow as the intestines are not yet well developed.  Although there are lots of environmental reservoirs of Clostridium botulinum spores, infant botulism is usually associated with the consumption of honey.

In 2011, infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.  Also in 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism.  He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body.

Ninety percent of the world’s cases of infant botulism are diagnosed in the United States, mainly because of physician awareness.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the prevalence of infant botulism has surpassed that of food-borne and wound botulism.  It is estimated that more than 250 cases of infant botulism occur in the United States each year, but many go unrecognized.  The classic clinical features include constipation, cranial nerve abnormalities, hypotonia, hyporeflexia and respiratory difficulties. The prognosis for infant botulism patients is excellent with anticipated full and complete recovery.  Recovery results from regrowth of the nerve endings that then are able to signal the muscles to contract. Botulinum toxin does not penetrate into the brain, and so infant botulism patients retain all the intelligence, athletic ability, musical ability, sense of humor and orneriness with which they were born.  .  However, we don’t want any infant to go through this major ordeal.

Reduce your risk

1)      Do not give any type of honey to infants (babies who are less than one year old).  Never add honey to an infant’s food, water, formula, or soother.

2)      Do only give honey to healthy children over one year of age.  By this age, children have developed helpful bacteria in their intestines that protect against Clostridium botulinum spores. Therefore, their risk of developing infant botulism is very low.

Here are other important facts you should know:

–           You can’t see, smell, or taste botulism.  The bacteria and toxins that cause botulism do not change the color, odor, or taste of food.

–           The bacterial spores that cause infant botulism are not easily destroyed by heat (cooking/boiling).

–           If a mother is breastfeeding, it is safe for the mother to consume honey.  Botulism is not transmitted by breast milk.  The mother and anyone handling the infant should thoroughly wash hands, however, in order to avoid prevent having honey on surfaces that may come into contact with the infant’s mouth.

To reiterate, the National Honey Board, honey industry and health authorities suggest that infants not be fed any honey, pasteurized or not, until after their first birthday.  So hold off on the temptation to give your infant a sweet honey treat.


“Christmas Joys” Mini Session being Offered

If you missed this fun program earlier in November, you have another chance!  Numerous individuals were placed on waiting lists, while others simply could not attend on that day.  In order to reach as many people as possible, I am offering a mini session.  You will receive the booklet, containing all the ideas and recipes presented in the full version, a goody bag, and refreshments. We might even have a few door prizes!   I will present “Everything Old is New Again” to show you some great ideas for gift-giving.  The cost is only $3, but seating is limited.  Write this information on your calendar:

When: Wednesday, December 3

Where:  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office – 1200-B W. Houston (former Chamber of Commerce), Sulphur Springs

Time: 1:30 p.m.

Call: 903-885-3443 to reserve a seat.  Seating is limited to 40.

Closing Thought

“Faith changes lives.  I know, because faith has changed mine” – former President George W. Bush


Johanna Hicks
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Family & Consumer Sciences
1200-B W. Houston
P.O.Box 518
Sulphur springs, TX 75483
903-885-3443 – phone
903-439-4909 – Fax
[email protected]

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Author: KSST Webmaster

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