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Infant Botulism


Larry M. Bush

, MD, FACP, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University;

Maria T. Vazquez-Pertejo

, MD, FACP, Wellington Regional Medical Center

Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019
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Infant botulism results from ingestion of Clostridium botulinum spores, their colonization of the large intestine, and toxin production in vivo. Symptoms are initial constipation followed by neuromuscular paralysis. Diagnosis is clinical and by laboratory identification of toxin or organisms in the stool. Treatment is with support and human botulism immune globulin.

Infant botulism occurs most often in infants < 6 months. The youngest reported patient was 2 weeks, and the oldest was 12 months. Unlike food-borne botulism, infant botulism is not caused by ingestion of a preformed toxin. Most cases are idiopathic, although some have been traced to ingestion of honey, which may contain C. botulinum spores; thus, infants < 12 months should not be fed honey.

Most cases involve type A or B toxin.

Symptoms and Signs of Infant Botulism

Constipation is present initially in 90% of cases of infant botulism and is followed by neuromuscular paralysis, beginning with the cranial nerves and proceeding to peripheral and respiratory musculature. Cranial nerve deficits typically include ptosis, extraocular muscle palsies, weak cry, poor suck, decreased gag reflex, pooling of oral secretions, poor muscle tone (floppy baby syndrome), and an expressionless face.

Severity varies from mild lethargy and slowed feeding to severe hypotonia and respiratory insufficiency.

Diagnosis of Infant Botulism

  • Stool tests

Initially, infant botulism should be suspected based on clinical findings. Treatment should not be delayed pending test results.

Infant botulism may be confused with sepsis, congenital muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, hypothyroidism, and benign congenital hypotonia.

Finding C. botulinum toxin or organisms in the stool establishes the diagnosis of infant botulism.

Treatment of Infant Botulism

  • Human botulism immune globulin

Infants are hospitalized, and supportive care (eg, ventilatory support) is given as needed. Because the organism and toxin are excreted in the stool for weeks to months after symptom onset, appropriate contact precautions must be followed.

Specific treatment of infant botulism is with human botulism immune globulin (BabyBIG®), which is available from the Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program (IBTPP—call 510-231-7600 or see the IBTPP web site). This antitoxin is derived from pooled human donors who have high titers of antibodies to A and/or B toxin. The dose of human botulinum immune globulin is 50 mg/kg IV, given slowly.

Treatment of infant botulism is started as soon as the diagnosis is suspected; waiting for confirmatory test results, which may take days, is dangerous.

The horse serum heptavalent antitoxin used in adults is not recommended for infants.

Antibiotics are not given because they may lyse C. botulinum in the gut and increase toxin availability.

More Information about Infant Botulism

  • Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program: Web site or call 510-231-7600

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Gammagard S/D
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