Cases Of Infant Botulism A Reminder Not To Feed Babies Honey

Parents are being urged to heed warnings about feeding children under the age of one honey after four babies were hospitalized with infant botulism in the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to parents after the infants in Texas, who were not related or known to eachother, needed life-saving treatment between August and October.

All four children had used pacifiers which contained honey.

Named after the toxin which causes it, Botulism is a rare disease which causes paralysis.

"Botulinum toxin is the most potent nerve toxin known to man," Head of microbiology at the University of South Australia School of Pharmacy & Medical Sciences Dr Rietie Venter told to 10 daily.

"It basically prevents a release of the chemical messages which tells your muscles to contract. In the old days they used to call it ‘floppy baby syndrome’ because the babies wouldn’t be able to hold themselves up."

In its worst cases, it can progress to such a point it causes respiratory paralysis, stopping a child or adult from breathing.

READ MORE: Health Authorities Warn Parents Against Use Of Baby Walkers And Exercise Jumpers

Where Does Honey Come Into It?

Botulism is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning.

Raw honey is most commonly associated with the disease in infants because it can carry the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which when ingested grow in the intestine and produce the toxin.

“Children under one don’t have a very well developed immune system and also very importantly they don’t have a very well developed gut microbiome," Dr Venter said. 

"So for us I suppose it’s less worrying in the sense that we have a lot of good gut bacteria that can out-compete this organism."

Honey has many health benefits but is not suitable for children under the age of one. Image: AAP

Cases of infant botulism are much more rare in Australia than the United States, but the warnings are consistent. Australian state governments, including NSW and SA, explicitly warn against giving honey to babies less than 12 months of age.

So while honey may seem like a good idea for perhaps calming your baby or even improving health due to its natural properties, the consensus across the board is it's best to avoid it.

READ MORE: Honeygate Explained: Jury Is Out On Whether Your Honey Is Actually Honey

The spores potentially found in honey can also be found in dust and soil, while foodborne botulism occurs when someone eats improperly prepared food which hasn't been heated enough to destroy the toxin. This is most likely to occur in canned or bottled vegetables and fruits, or fermented, salted or smoked fish or meat products.

Raw honey is most commonly associated with the disease in infants because it can carry the spores of the botulinum bacteria. Image: Getty

In 2013, authorities in New Zealand recalled up to 1,000 tonnes of dairy products exported to seven countries, including Australia, due to tests identifying  a strain of bacteria in batches of whey protein that can cause botulism.

Symptoms And Treatment

Symptoms of infant botulism include a weak cry or suck, constipation, loss of appetite and muscle weakness including poor head control.

Constipation is usually the first symptom to present, and signs will begin to show between three to 30 days after a child ingests the spores.

Symptoms will present in babies between 3 to 30 days after ingesting the spores. Image: Getty

The disease can be treated, usually in the intensive care unit with the help of a ventilator if breathing has been affected, but it's important to seek medical treatment as quickly as possible.

There is also an antitoxin available.