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A to Z: Botulism, Infant

May also be called: Botulism

Botulism (BAH-chu-lih-zum) is a rare but serious illness caused by poisons produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Infant botulism happens when a baby takes in C. botulinum spores (cells made by bacteria), which can grow in the digestive system and produce toxins.

More to Know

Clostridium botulinum bacteria can be found in soil and dust. If a person gets infected, the bacteria make toxins that make nerves not work as they should, leading to weakness and paralysis.

Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. In infants, symptoms include constipation, a flat facial expression, poor feeding, a weak cry, decreased movement, trouble swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle weakness, and breathing problems.

If not treated, botulism can cause respiratory (breathing) failure, paralysis, and death. Botulism is usually treated in a hospital with an antitoxin that blocks the toxins produced by the bacteria. In some cases, a breathing machine (ventilator) may be used to help with breathing.

Keep in Mind

Infant botulism can be fatal. Any child who shows signs of the disease should get medical care right away. Fortunately, infant botulism is extremely rare, with about 100 cases reported in the United States each year. With early diagnosis and proper medical care, most babies fully recover from the illness.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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