Health Topics: Adult And Infant Botulism

Informaton on infant and adult botulism, their symptoms, preventions and prognosis. A physical description of the problem and tips on helping.

Botulism is a rare but potentially fatal disease that is caused by contaminated food items. There are two varieties of botulism, Adult and Infant.

The adult botulism occurs because of the presence of the botulism bacterium that is commonly found in soil. When a person eats food that contains the botulism toxin it is usually because the food was canned and/or refrigerated improperly. It also occurs occasionally in fish.

Infants, on the other hand, become ill because they have eaten the spores of the clostridium botulinum bacterium. The most common way for an infant to ingest these spores are through honey but they can also develop the illness due to corn syrup.

Infant botulism generally occurs in children who are younger than six months of age although doctors discourage giving honey to any child under the age of twelve months.

The only way an infant can contract Infant Botulism is through ingestion. It is not a contagious disease so it cannot occur by person-to-person contact. Once the infant has ingested the spores, they then multiply in the digestive tract and produce the botulism toxin.

The exact incubation period of Infant botulism is not known and the symptoms are often easy to miss. Initially the infant may not eat well and/or appear constipated. These symptoms may or may not be accompanied by crying. As the disease progresses, the infant becomes lethargic, listless and finally start to become weak. If the disease progresses without treatment, the infant will begin to be "floppy" like a rag doll and eventually die.



Infant botulism isn't something the child will "just get over." It requires hospital care and a great deal of supportive care. There is a botulism antitoxin for adults but it nor antibiotics are used in infants. They not only don't help, they can even worsen the condition.

Diagnosis for both Infant and Adult Botulism is based upon certain neurological, laboratory tests and the presence of the clostridium botulinum bacteria in the patients stool. As stated the spores of the bacteria grow in the intestines and release a toxin. In adults the disease acts a little differently.

The toxin that is produced when older children and adults eat contaminated food is absorbed into the intestines and it then attaches to the nerve casing. Where as an infant may only show signs of a lack of appetite and constipation, older patients will begin having blurry vision, a dry mouth, general weakness and a shortness of breath as well as difficulty in speaking or swallowing.

Treatment for adult botulism requires the quality of care that is found in the intensive care units of hospitals.

If left untreated, the illness will often progress into complete paralysis and respiratory failure that is then followed by death.

I have personally seen dogs that have eaten rotten deer and other game that have had these same symptoms so be advised botulism isn't just a "human" disease. One of these canine patients suffered seizures, weeks of diarrhea and a general paralysis. After two months of intensive care at the clinic, the owners finally opted for euthanasia because the dog never recovered the use of her hindquarters. The owner had taken her out into the woods and hadn't seen a problem with her eating the dead deer they had come across.

Although infant and adult botulism is rare, the best thing anyone can do is take the proper precautions to prevent the illness. No child under twelve months should ever be given honey. For older children and adults, proper canning procedures should be followed as far as hygiene, heating time and the sterilization of the canning jars. The botulism toxin is only destroyed after being boiled for ten minutes so any home or bought canned should be boiled for safety.

Proper procedures for refrigeration as well as the storage and freezing of any meat should always be closely followed. More information about infant and adult botulism as well as food refrigeration, storage and precautions can be acquired at your pediatrician or doctor's office and also at most county health clinics.

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