The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning parents not to give their babies honey. The warning comes after four infants in Texas developed botulism after being exposed to the sweet stuff.
All four, who were unrelated, had been given pacifiers that contained honey and were purchased in Mexico. However, the FDA points out, similar products can be purchased in the U.S. through online retailers. All of the babies required hospitalization for what the FDA called “life-saving treatment.”
Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms usually start with weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth and throat, and it can spread to the neck, arms, torso and legs. Botulism can also weaken the muscles involved in breathing, which makes the disease particularly dangerous.
Botulism can be caused by many sources, including canned foods with low acid content, a wound infection, and contact with certain bacteria found in soil and dust, the CDC says. However, honey can also contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism, which happens when the spores get into the digestive tract, grow and produce the toxin.
According to infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, honey may be given to children over a year old. At that point, children have developed other types of bacteria in their digestive tract to prevent botulism bacteria from growing and producing the toxin.
This warning, experts say, shouldn’t be news to parents. “As a pediatrician you’re supposed to remind parents not to give honey under age 1,” Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I also recommend letting all caregivers know they can’t have honey. It’s a real risk.”
“Botulism is dangerous for everybody, but babies are more likely to get it from honey,” Adalja says.
If your baby accidentally eats honey — maybe a well-meaning grandparent gave it to them or they were given one of these pacifiers before you realized what was in it — don’t panic. “Not every baby that ingests honey is going to get botulism,” Adalja says.
There’s also “nothing a doctor can do to prevent botulism from developing,” Posner says. Instead, keep a close eye on your baby and look for signs of weakness in their muscles or their cry. “If they seem to be getting sick, make sure you tell the doctor that your baby might have ingested honey,” Adalja says. Botulism is treated with antitoxins, which prevent the botulism toxin from causing more harm, the CDC says. However, it doesn’t reverse damage that has already been done. “Prevention is crucial,” Posner says.
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