- Four babies in Texas were hospitalized for botulism after using pacifiers containing honey, according to a new warning from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Honey is a possible source of Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism.
- Experts say parents shouldn’t give honey to infants younger than 12 months.
- The FDA urged parents not to give babies pacifiers that are filled with or dipped in honey.
Health officials are warning parents about the dangers of honey-filled pacifiers after four Texas infants developed botulism, CBS News reported Monday.
In a statement released on Friday, the Texas Department of State Health Services said the four babies became ill between mid-August and the end of October. All the infants had been given a honey-containing pacifier purchased in Mexico and all were later hospitalized for “life-saving” botulism treatment, the statement said.
Also on Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its own safety alert about the Texas infants.
“These pacifiers were purchased in Mexico, but similar products also appear to be available in the US through online retailers,” the FDA statement said.
Botulism is a rare disease caused by the botulinum toxin, which attacks the body’s nerves. This leads to breathing difficulty, muscle paralysis, and in some cases, death, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The types of bacteria that can lead to botulism, including Clostridium botulinum, create spores that act like protective coatings. These spores don’t usually make people sick, even when they’re eaten, but in some conditions, the spores can flourish and produce botulinum toxin, the CDC explains.
Infant botulism may happen if the bacteria’s spores get into a baby’s still-developing intestines. There, the spores may grow, produce the toxin, and cause illness.
In 2016, there were 205 confirmed botulism cases in the US, according to CDC surveillance data, and 150 of those cases were classified as “infant.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the source of spores is “usually unclear” in cases of infant botulism. They can come from contaminated foods, or from soil or dust that’s inhaled and swallowed by a child.
But honey is one known potential source of the spores. That’s why the AAP, the FDA, and the CDC all recommend that parents not give honey to infants who are younger than 12 months old, the FDA statement said. (Once kids reach age one, their stomach acid is strong enough to eliminate the risk posed by the sweetener, pediatrician Dr. Andrew Bernstein previously explained to INSIDER.)
Luckily, the disease is much less deadly than it used to be, thanks to modern medical care and antitoxin treatment.
But given the potential botulism risk associated with honey, the FDA recommended that online retailers stop selling honey-containing pacifiers.
The agency also had a strong warning for parents.
“The FDA is recommending parents and caregivers do not give pacifiers filled with or dipped in honey to their infants or young children,” the statement said. “If you have previously purchased a pacifier filled with or dipped in honey, you should stop using it and discard it immediately.”
If a baby shows any symptoms of botulism (constipation, a weak cry, appearing lethargic or “floppy,” or feeding poorly) parents should see a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately, the CDC said.