Logan Douglas, 16 weeks old, is in an Edinburgh, Scotland hospital, in "critical but stable condition" today – the first Scottish victim of infant botulism since 1983 (as far back as can be traced in the country's electronic records).
Six weeks ago, according to BBC, Logan was admitted to Edinburgh's Royal Hospital for Sick Children with symptoms of infant botulism. A lab test confirmed the diagnosis. Doctors suspect that Logan contracted the disease as a result of sucking on a pacifier that had been dipped in honey.
Infant botulism occurs when a baby or toddler with an immature digestive system eats something – usually honey – that contains live spores of Clostridium botulinum. These spores, which are unable to develop in a mature digestive system, are able to grow and produce a deadly toxin in the digestive tract of infants who are less than one year old.
The toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is a neurotoxin; it affects the nervous system, causing a progressive paralysis. In babies, the first symptom usually is constipation. This is usually followed by poor feeding, weakness and lethargy. The baby has difficulty holding up its head.
There are few treatment options for infant botulism. Antibiotics do not work. In 2003, US Food and Drug Administration approved an orphan drug, BabyBIG®, to treat infant botulism. BabyBIG® consists of human-derived antitoxin antibodies that bind to and neutralize the botulism toxin.
BabyBIG® is not readily available outside of the United States and Canada. In its absence, a patient simply receives supportive care until the microbe and the toxin clear out of the body. This takes time, as Logan's parents are finding out.
Fortunately, infant botulism is an infrequent occurrence. There have been only a half-dozen cases in the UK since 1976. In the United States, there are fewer than 100 cases reported annually. It also is a totally preventable disease.
The odds of survival are in Logan's favor. Fewer than 2% of botulism cases are fatal – usually as a result of respiratory arrest. But it could take months for him to recover fully.
Protect your infant from infant botulism. DO NOT feed honey or corn syrup (another source of spores) – not even a tiny amount – to any infant or toddler who is younger than 12 months old.
Note: Thanks to eFoodAlert reader Mats Peterz for pointing me to the BabyBIG® treatment information.