The only known prevention measure for infant botulism is to avoid feeding honey to infants. Breastfeeding may slow the onset of illness if it develops. After 12 months of age, most individuals are not susceptible to botulism from honey ingestion.

The role of breastfeeding and formula feeding as factors possibly predisposing to the development of illness remains unsettled. All studies to date have identified an association between being breast fed and being hospitalized for infant botulism 1-7 . This finding has resulted in one perspective that holds that breastfeeding predisposes to the development of illness 3, 4, 6, whereas the other perspective holds that breast-feeding slows its onset sufficiently to permit hospitalization to occur 1, 2, 8, 9. However, among hospitalized patients, the mean age at onset of infant botulism in formula-fed infants (7.6 weeks) was significantly younger and approximately half that of breast-fed infants (13.8 weeks). In addition, the fulminant-onset infant botulism patients who died at home all were formula-fed. The relative susceptibility of formula-fed and breastfed infants to the acquisition of infant botulism and the resultant severity of their disease may reflect differences in the availability of suitable ecologic niches in the intestinal flora for C. botulinum, differences in the availability of immune factors (such as lactoferrin and secretory IgA) contained in human milk but not in formula milk, 9  or other differences not identified yet.

Honey is an identified and avoidable food reservoir of C. botulinum. While most cases of infant botulism today are not caused by exposure to honey prior to illness, it is the only avoidable dietary source of exposure to the bacterium that has been definitively linked to infant botulism by both laboratory and epidemiologic evidence 7, 10-18

To date, 33 instances worldwide are known in which C. botulinum has been identified in honey associated with infant botulism cases. In each instance, the toxin type (A or B) of the spores in the honey matched the toxin type (A or B) of the C. botulinum that caused the infant's illness; the probability that such perfect concordance occurred by chance is less than 1 in 10 billion. C. botulinum spores have been found in the honey from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Central America, China, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, and Poland, 18-30. For these reasons, all major pediatric, public health, and honey industry agencies in the United States have joined in the recommendation that honey not be fed to infants. In 2000, several honey brands sold in the United States began to carry a warning to not feed honey to infants; an equivalent label first appeared on British honey in 1996.

Consideration of the possible role of corn syrup in infant botulism is necessitated by two reports. In 1982, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found C. botulinum type B spores in approximately 0.5 percent (5 of 961) of previously unopened retail samples of light and dark corn syrup 23; the manufacturer then made changes in the production process. In 1989, the CDC reported a 2-year epidemiologic study of U.S. cases from all states except California 6. By subgrouping patients by age and using logistic regression modeling techniques, researchers identified a statistical association between the triad of corn syrup exposure, breastfeeding, and an age of 2 months or older at onset 6, 31.

In contrast to these reports, a 1988 Canadian survey found no C. botulinum spores in 43 corn syrup samples 21. A 1991 FDA market survey of 738 syrup samples (354 of which were light corn syrup and 271 were dark corn syrup) concluded that none contained C. botulinum spores 32. In addition, a 1979 epidemiologic study that simply compared corn syrup exposure rates in 41 cases and 107 control infants identified feeding of corn syrup as a significant protective factor against the acquisition of type A infant botulism 19. The explanation offered for the latter observation was that if a parent chose corn syrup as a sweetener for the infant, honey was unlikely to have been fed to the child as a second sweetener.  Thus, on the basis of evidence presently available, corn syrup does not appear to be a source of C. botulinum spores or a risk factor for the acquisition of infant botulism.

C. botulinum spores also have been identified in bulk and packaged chamomile tea 33 and bulk linden flower tea 34 though there have been no reports to date with definitive laboratory and epidemiological evidence linking a case of infant botulism to herbal tea consumption.

It deserves emphasis that for most cases of infant botulism, no source of C. botulinum spores is ever identified, even circumstantially. In these cases, the illness was likely acquired by swallowing spores adherent to airborne microscopic (invisible) dust.

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