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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Botulism in Infants

Botulism in Infants

Alternate Names : Infant Botulism

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Botulism is a condition caused by a toxin made by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. This toxin triggers sudden, progressive weakness and paralysis. Infant botulism is usually seen in babies younger than 6 months old.

What is going on in the body?

In adults, botulism occurs only after eating foods that contain the full-blown toxin. In infants, tiny spores from the bacteria that would not be harmful to an adult can grow in the baby's gut. Once there, they mature and release toxins.

These toxins enter the bloodstream and are carried to the ends of the nerves that control muscles. They block the release of a chemical called acetylcholine that transmits signals from nerves to muscles. If this chemical is not released at the right time, the muscle cannot contract. This causes muscle weakness or paralysis.

The diaphragm is a strong layer of muscle below the lungs. If nerves in the diaphragm are blocked, the baby will not be able to breathe. If untreated, this can cause death.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The Clostridium botulinum bacteria makes one of the most poisonous substances known to man. Just a small amount of the toxin it produces can be fatal. Some sources of the bacteria and its toxins include:

  • honey, which should never be fed to babies younger than age 12 months
  • soil, which can infect a wound
  • canned or home-preserved foods that were not cooked enough to destroy the spores


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    Botulism in Infants: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/22/02

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