Two infant botulism cases in Bucks Co. PA in past month

As the somewhat paranoid dad of a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old I’m constantly overreacting to common kid ailments and moods and thinking of the worst. 18 months ago I was convinced for about 20 minutes that our eldest son, Jack, had infant botulism. He was a really fussy baby and a day of quiet and lethargy from him had me worried. I had just read a story about infant botulism and figured, irrationally, that was the cause of his mood and lack of action. It turned out just be a cold. Sometimes I’m irrational.

Infant botulism occurs when C. 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 C. botulinum spores,  Infant botulism is usually associated with the consumption of honey.

Today, MSNBC reports about a couple of infant botulism cases in Bucks Co. PA.

When infant Amanda Zakrzewski suddenly started acting unusually fussy and was unable to eat, her parents thought she was sick or teething.

Then in the middle of the night, Zakrzewski’s wife, Laura, made Amanda a bottle after she again refused to breastfeed. As she tried feeding Amanda, the baby looked glassy eyed and appeared to be gagging.

Laura started rubbing Amanda’s gums. That is when she knew something was definitely wrong. The baby didn’t try to suck her finger.

The couple immediately took Amanda to the emergency room thinking she might have an upper respiratory infection. But the ER found Amanda didn’t have a fever, a cough or a runny nose and her chest X-ray wasn’t suspicious.

The couple’s next stop was the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which treats about a dozen infant botulism cases a year. A neurologist there confirmed botulism.

Amanda recovered fully after treatment with anti-toxin. After nine days in the hospital, she returned home just before Christmas. She will undergo a few months of physical therapy to catch up with some physical milestones, Laura said.

Early diagnosis is critical with botulism poisoning, but the first symptoms often mimic less serious illnesses.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.