Risk Of Infant Botulism Higher In Our Area

Risk Of Infant Botulism Higher In Our Area Than Anywhere Else In U.S.

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A breathing tube helped Jason to breath when he was diagnosed with infant botulism. A breathing tube helped Jason to breath when he was diagnosed with infant botulism.
Jason, now 8-years-old, plays a video game with his sister. Jason, now 8-years-old, plays a video game with his sister.
Nicole Uzzo, pictured, was diagnosed when she was 3 months. Nicole Uzzo, pictured, was diagnosed when she was 3 months.

You wouldn't know it looking at him today, but 8-year-old Jason Lackowitz is as healthy as any other young boy.

But when he was just six months old on February 5, 2005, his mom says he thought he might not live to make it through the night.

"He became paralyzed, his lungs and muscles stopped working, within hours he was intubated. I felt like my baby was dying," mom Jeannine Lackowitz said.

(You can watch the story from FOX 29's Kerry Barrett in the video above)

That morning, Jeannine says he looked a little "off" and took him to see his pediatrician.

"They said go home. As they day progressed, he went limp."

They raced to the emergency room, where doctors immediately put Jason in an ambulance and sent him to Alfred I. Dupont Children's Hospital.

On the way, Jeannine says he stopped breathing.

"He looked like a heart patient, he was unresponsive, it looked like they put him in a coma."

Doctors thought he might have a tumor, but a CT scan and an MRI both turned up negative.

"The first question was, 'did you give him honey?' No. 'Does his dad work in construction?' I said no."

Doctors say those are the most common ways infants can contract botulism. While you may think of botulism as something you get from food, that's not always the case. Botulism spores also live in the soil. For adults, they're not a problem, but for infants, it's something else entirely. Doctors say in their tiny bodies, the spores produce a toxin, which is one of the deadliest known to man.

"A week prior we were looking at a home in Montco, unfinished, with the children," Jeannine said.

Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, has conducted decades of research on infant botulism.

Long tells FOX 29 there are more spores in the soil in suburban Philadelphia than almost anywhere else in the country.

"Most of the infant botulism in the U.S. is from this area," Long said.

In freshly stirred up soil, like what you would find at a construction site, the spores are released into the air.

"The soil got on my body, he ingested it," Jeannine said.

The family spent four weeks at the hospital and 14 days in an intensive care unit. Jeannine says during that time her son was intubated for eight days.

"What parents almost always notice first, before doctors can diagnose, is that the baby's smile isn't quite the same," Long said. The facial expressions aren't quite the same. It's because the muscles are getting weak."

Botulism works by killing the nerves, paralyzing a baby - a process that sometimes can take a day or two or even much faster.

FOX 29 heard the same story from another family.

"She was only 3 months, we had just moved into our new house," father, Dr. Robert Uzzo said. "Being a physician, I thought, this must be wrong, botulism is a thing of the past."

But Uzzo quickly learned the soil here has the potential to kill.

After more than three weeks in the ICU, his daughter, Nicole, is now a healthy 9-year-old girl. Doctors say she was saved by the only method to treat infant botulism, a serum called "baby-big," which is flown in from California on a case-by-case basis. Uzzo says Nicole was part of its clinical trial.

"If you're building in southeast Pennsylvania, people may need to know this is a potential risk to young children," Uzzo said.

Because there's no standard for soil testing, there's no way to eliminate botulism from the soil.

While there's nothing you can do to eliminate the risk, Jeannine has some very simple advice to parents: "Don't bring your baby with you to a construction site."

Infant botulism is rare and only occurs in babies under the age of 11 months. There are only 4,000 cases in the entire country.

If caught early, doctors say the survival rate is 100 percent.

To the right of this story, we've included links to help you find additional information about infant botulism.

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