Infant botulism

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Apr 1;65(7):1388-92.


Although the worldwide incidence of infant botulism is rare, the majority of cases are diagnosed in the United States. An infant can acquire botulism by ingesting Clostridium botulinum spores, which are found in soil or honey products. The spores germinate into bacteria that colonize the bowel and synthesize toxin. As the toxin is absorbed, it irreversibly binds to acetylcholine receptors on motor nerve terminals at neuromuscular junctions. The infant with botulism becomes progressively weak, hypotonic and hyporeflexic, showing bulbar and spinal nerve abnormalities. Presenting symptoms include constipation, lethargy, a weak cry, poor feeding and dehydration. A high index of suspicion is important for the diagnosis and prompt treatment of infant botulism, because this disease can quickly progress to respiratory failure. Diagnosis is confirmed by isolating the organism or toxin in the stool and finding a classic electromyogram pattern. Treatment consists of nutritional and respiratory support until new motor endplates are regenerated, which results in spontaneous recovery. Neurologic sequelae are seldom seen. Some children require outpatient tube feeding and may have persistent hypotonia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Botulinum Antitoxin / therapeutic use
  • Botulism / complications
  • Botulism / diagnosis*
  • Botulism / drug therapy*
  • Botulism / epidemiology
  • Botulism / physiopathology
  • Clostridium botulinum / isolation & purification
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Botulinum Antitoxin