Babies Are Getting Botulism After Using Honey-Filled Pacifiers—Here’s What You Need To know

Four infants from across the state of Texas have been hospitalized with botulism after using pacifiers filled with honey purchased in Mexico. Following the incidents, the Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a warning to parents, urging them not to give babies pacifiers with honey.

Babies under a year old should not consume honey because it can contain bacterial spores that lead to infant botulism. By the time children turn one, they have developed enough of other types of bacteria in their gut that will prevent the spores from growing into active bacteria and releasing the toxin that makes them sick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a reminder to parents about this guideline in the wake of the recent hospitalizations.

Honey pacifiers are not commonly sold in the United States, but can be found online and in some specialty stores. Though the honey isn’t typically meant to be consumed, the pacifiers can rupture or leak, and some feature small holes that allow the children to taste the substance.

The FDA is now taking steps to identify the online retailer that sold the pacifiers implicated in the incidents. As the Texas DHHS stated in its warning, any pacifier that contains a food substance carries a risk of infant botulism and should be avoided.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves. Symptoms can include a weakening of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth and throat, which can then lead to double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids and breathing difficulty. Infants infected with the illness may appear lethargic, have difficulty feeding or suffer from constipation. They might also have a weak cry and appear “floppy” due to poor muscle tone.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state has had seven to eight cases of botulism in infants per year in recent years. This year, 10 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported.

If you think your baby may have botulism, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Babies can be treated with botulism immune globulin, which is given intravenously and can help save their lives.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that honey can contain the bacteria that causes botulism. Honey carries bacterial spores, not active bacteria. We regret the error.