4 Texas Infants Got Botulism, Why You Should Never Give Infants Honey Pacifiers

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Do not give anyone younger than a year old honey. (Photo: Getty Images)Getty

Lots of pacifier news this week. By lots, I mean two news items, because let’s face it, pacifiers aren’t exactly the Kardashians when it comes to getting media attention.

I already wrote about one piece of pacifier news for Forbes, a study examining the potential impact of parents sucking their infant’s pacifiers clean. The other pacifier news? On Friday, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that 4 infants in the state had been hospitalized for botulism after each had used honey-containing pacifiers purchased in Mexico. The cases also prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to re-emphasize that you should never feed a child honey before he or she reaches at least one year of age. 

Honey may contain spores of a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria can secrete a neurotoxin called botulinum toxin, which can block nerve cells from releasing a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine and thus paralyze muscles. Does the name of this toxin sound familiar? Yes, it is Botox. It’s muscle paralyzing effects are why Botox can smooth out wrinkles and leave you with what looks like a permanently surprised look. Of course, Botox treatments usually involve only a small dose of the toxin.

However, botulism occurs with larger quantities of the toxin when enough of the toxin goes from your gut to other parts of your body, paralyzing muscles that you normally use to move and breathe. That’s why botulism can be life-threatening. And that’s why typical early symptoms are difficulty seeing, moving, breathing, swallowing, talking, or crying if you are an infant or you normally frequently cry.

Botulism is a medical emergency. If you suspect that you have botulism, stop Facebooking and contact your doctor immediately. You will want to get antitoxin as soon as possible.

Why then is it OK for you to eat honey, assuming that you are older than one? You likely have other bacteria in your gut that can crowd out Clostridium botulinum and prevent it from reproducing and producing toxin. When babies are born, they don’t have that same bacteria. That’s why your poop stinks and theirs don’t. In other words, infants younger than one are the only ones who can truly say that their poop don’t stink.

This does not mean that you can’t get botulism. If, for example, you eat food from a can where Clostridium botulinum has already been reproducing and producing the toxin, you can get botulism from such a can. It just means that your older intestines can probably handle honey that happens to contain some Clostridium botulinum spores  

Therefore, remember “Honey Child” is probably OK if it is”Honey One Year or Older Child.” But honey infant? That’s a no-no.

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