Honey and Botulism

Honey is one of nature’s medicines and human have been harvesting it for thousands of years. However a reminder was issued today after reports of botulism being on the rise.

Babies are unable to fight off the botulism bacteria during their first year and botulism can lead to paralysis if it is not treated quickly. Although it is very rare the risk is still present, and parents are being advised not to give honey to babies. Babies really do not need a sweetener. In one recent case a 15 week old baby caught botulism after being fed honey.

What is Botulism?

Botulism is a germ that is usually found living harmlessly in soil. Sometimes honey can become polluted with botulism carrying soil. Once it enters the human body the germ starts to multiply inside a baby’s intestine and becomes toxic. This results in infant botulism. Because a baby’s intestine is still developing in its first year it has not built the defence mechanisms to fight off the germ.

The symptoms of botulism appear from 3 to 30 days after a baby has consumed the contaminated honey. Constipation is often the first sign of botulism. Call your doctor if your baby hasn’t had a bowel movement in 3 days.


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Other symptoms of botulism are:

  • Loss of any facial expressions
  • Not feeding properly, a weakened sucking action
  • Crying with a whimper, not a loud cry
  • Baby becomes less active than usual
  • Lots of dribbling caused by inability to swallow properly
  • Generally weaker, floppier
  • Sometimes problems with breathing

If any of these symptoms are seen in a baby it is advisable to see a doctor immediately. The only treatment  is with specific antitoxins that are given in hospital. Due to the breathing problems that occur babies are usually kept on a ventilator while being treated.

The easiest way to avoid it is by not feeding honey to a baby, and don’t let babies play in the dirt/mud/sand either.

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