Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Infant botulism: Can it be prevented?

How can I protect my baby from infant botulism?

Updated: 06-20-2012

Answer

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.

To protect your baby from infant botulism:

  • Don't offer your baby honey. Wild honey is a potential source of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) spores.
  • 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.
  • Store food safely. Discard any food that could be spoiled. Also toss food containers that seem suspicious or appear to bulge.
  • 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 North America, the risk is greatest in Pennsylvania, Utah and California — states in which 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.

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 botulism toxin — can help prevent life-threatening complications of infant botulism.

Antibiotics aren't helpful in the treatment of infant botulism.