Babies, honey, and botulism
Summary: Honey is often sold as a raw agricultural product, meaning it is not pasteurized. This could mean that C. botulinum contaminated honey could be sold in the market. As parents feed contaminated honey to infants, baby’s immature gut provides a hospitable environment for C. botulinum to grow. Since there aren’t many other microbes in infant’s gut, C. botulinum doesn’t get out-competed by other species of bacteria and will grow spores that will produce botulinum toxin. Botulinum toxin blocks nerve impulses and weakens muscle. Due to this symptom, 60% of the babies have trouble breathing and could lead to death.
Connections: We learned that human gut microbes take long time to build and what’s left behind are usually bacteria that benefits mutually between us and the bacteria. Or sometimes we consume steady consumption of probiotics to alter our gut microbe to our benefit. Infants on the other hand, have not developed such a complex gut microbes and when potentially resilient and dangerous bacteria are introduced, they will grow exponentially without any competition making it the dominant portion of the gut microbes.
Critical Analysis: I really liked this article because it tied what we learned about human microbiome to real life and potentially dangerous event. Although infant botulism is rare these days, there are still some cases in developing countries. For instance, Korea about 6 decades ago after the Korean War, was super poor and in ruins. So honey was extremely rare. Parents would try to feed their infants with honey first rather than themselves because they thought it was going to be good for the babies and wanted to feed anything good to their children. This led to numerous incidents of infant botulism and infant’s death. Even nowadays without doctor’s warning or concept of C. botunlium bacteria and its interaction with gut microbes, it is easy to accidentally feed infants with honey.
Questions: The article did not mention at which age can an infant form enough stable gut microbes to intake honey.