Baby contracts botulism from inhaling topsoil dust Disorder could be fatal if untreated, doctors warn

June 12, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

An afternoon trip to a gardening center turned into a month-long nightmare after Cindy Pack's 4-month-old baby inhaled topsoil dust and contracted a rare case of infantile botulism.

"I would've never known in a million years," the 28-year-old Harford County mother said of the diagnosis.

To promote awareness about the condition, local medical officials appeared at a news conference yesterday at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where Grant Pack is recovering from partial paralysis caused by the illness.

Infantile botulism is a rare but treatable neurological disorder caused by bacteria found in soils and households. Spores created by the bacteria produce a toxin in an infant's intestines that attack the nerve fibers connected to muscle, causing paralysis.

Difficulty in swallowing and breathing are symptoms of the onset of infection. Left untreated, the child could die of respiratory failure.

Because the illness strikes so few, parents shouldn't be afraid to take their babies outside, but they should be alert to symptoms, said Dr. Tom Crawford, director of the Pediatric Neuromuscular Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

On May 3, Pack took Grant, her 4-year-old son and her mother to a gardening center to buy topsoil for planting flowers at the family's home in Street. Pack and her mother took turns holding Grant while they shoveled the topsoil into several bags.

On the drive home, the baby could have inhaled more dust from the topsoil, which was stored in the back of the vehicle and on the seats where Grant was placed.

Late that night, when she tried to nurse Grant, Pack noticed he was having trouble swallowing. The next day, he had problems breathing and within hours was rushed to Johns Hopkins Children's Center, nearly paralyzed and in need of a respirator.

Grant is now able to breathe on his own. Last Wednesday he was transferred to the Kennedy Krieger Institute for treatment related to his motor skills.

The bacteria that cause infantile botulism can be found in honey, corn syrup and aerosolized topsoils, doctors said. Nationally, 75 to 100 cases are reported annually, 95 percent of them in children 3 weeks to 6 months old.

Dr. Crawford said Grant will come away from the ordeal a normal child.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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