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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 04/08/2016

Honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age

Risk of infant botulism related to honey consumption in babies

Keywords : Infants, Infant botulism

Infant botulism is a rare disease, occurring in children under one year of age. Resistant forms (spores) of the bacteria responsible for this disease (Clostridium botulinum) can be found in dust and some soils. Carried by bees, the spores can then be found in honey. As a result of increased cases of infant botulism since 2004, the Agency emphasises that, irrespective of its origin, honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age. 

What is infant botulism?

Infant botulism is a rare disease, occurring in children under one year of age. It affects the nervous system and is caused by the spores of a bacterium (Clostridium botulinum) contained in dust and some soils, but also in honey, the only recognised food source of exposure to this bacteria (based on current scientific knowledge). 

The most common and earliest symptom of infant botulism is constipation. Other symptoms describe a generally weakened condition: poor sucking reflex, irritability, lack of facial expression, and loss of control over head movements. Paralysis of the diaphragm may cause respiratory problems however, requiring emergency medical care. Most infant botulism cases require lengthy hospitalisation with respiratory assistance. However, in Western countries fatalities are extremely rare.

 

Why are children under one year of age susceptible?

A child under one year of age is especially susceptible to this infection because its immune system is not sufficiently functional to defend it against microbes. If the child ingests honey contaminated with C. Botulinum, the spores of the bacterium can multiply in the intestines resulting in local production of the toxin that is responsible for the disease.

After one year, the child’s defenses are more efficient, enabling it to eliminate spores on its own.

 

How can infants be protected from this? 

In accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the Agency reiterates that honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age. Thus, honey should never be added to an infant’s food, or used on fingers or pacifiers to calm a restless baby or a baby with colic, etc.

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