How can I protect my baby from infant botulism?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Infant botulism is a rare but serious gastrointestinal condition caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) spores. Bacteria from the spores can grow and multiply in a baby's intestines, producing a dangerous toxin. The condition can occur in infants up to age 12 months.

To protect your baby from infant botulism:

  • Avoid exposure to potentially contaminated soil or dust. Soil can contain C. botulinum spores, which can circulate in the air and be inhaled into the lungs. In the United States, the risk is greatest in Pennsylvania, Utah and California — where soil botulinum spore counts are high. Exposure to contaminated soil is most likely near construction and agricultural sites or other areas where soil is disturbed.
  • Don't offer honey. Wild honey is a potential source of C. botulinum spores. Avoid giving honey — even a tiny taste — to babies under the age of 1 year.
  • Be careful when canning food. Pressure-cook home-canned foods to reduce the risk of contamination with C. botulinum spores. Consider boiling home-canned foods for 10 minutes before serving them.

Constipation is often the first sign of infant botulism, typically accompanied by floppy movements, weakness, and difficulty sucking or feeding. If you suspect your baby might have infant botulism, seek medical help immediately. Prompt treatment with the botulism immune globulin — a substance given through the baby's veins to work against the toxin — can help prevent life-threatening complications of infant botulism.

June 04, 2015