Same Neighborhood Texas Infants Diagnosed With Botulism

Earlier this year, two infants in a West Texas neighborhood were diagnosed with botulism, a rare and potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin affecting the nerves. The families, residing close to each other, found out about the diagnosis in mid-January and early February.

Another infant in the neighborhood was previously found to have botulism, a condition that can lead to breathing problems and muscle weakness, in August. The three infants were treated at hospitals in Lubbock.

Local and state health officials noted that the types of botulism varied in each case, so they did not feel the need to alert others in the area. This decision caused concern for the three families regarding the health of nearby households with newborns. “This is not a one-time occurrence, this is not like the flu,” stated Jana Bowman, mother of one of the infants. “Families should be aware of the signs to prevent leaving a child at home for long periods without receiving proper care.”

Infants can get botulism from the environment or contaminated food. According to a spokesperson, the Midland Health Department has not yet determined the cause of the toxin exposure that affected the three children. Yet, the spokesperson dismissed the possibility of food.

Identifying the specific source of many infant botulism cases can be challenging as it can come from environmental factors like dust stirred up by windy conditions, construction near the home, or contact with parents who work outdoors. “After our investigation, we have concluded that the source is not related to foodborne issues.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases of infant botulism cannot be prevented due to the presence of the bacteria in soil and dust. In 2019, there were 215 cases reported nationwide, which was the most recent year data was available. Over 70% of the individuals were infants. That year, Texas reported 12 cases, ranking third in the number of infections. California had 43 cases, while Pennsylvania had 17.

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When a doctor in Texas suspects botulism, samples are sent to Austin for laboratory testing, which may take between two to 14 days to finish. The state informs the local health department and, for infants, the Infant Botulism Center in California, the sole agency in the country with an antidote.

In 2023, Texas reported 12 cases of infant botulism, averaging about one per month. This was the highest number in a four-year span, as per data acquired by The Texas Tribune. Over the past three years, the state has seen an average of 10 cases, according to Kenneth Davis, who oversees food and water-borne diseases and high-consequence infections at the Texas Department of State Health Services. In late February, Texas had reported four cases in 2024, according to a spokesperson speaking to the Tribune.

Two of them are the Midland cases. Jana and Foster Bowman’s 4-month-old baby got botulism at the end of January. Typically robust and durable, their infant became lifeless. He refused to eat or be active. As they bathed him one evening, they sat by the bathtub, feeling a bit anxious. Foster Bowman was determined to bring the baby to the hospital.

Jana, a former pediatric nurse in Lubbock who recently relocated to Midland, had already chosen a hospital. They arrived by car. The following day, the hospital placed a tube in the baby’s airway.

At first, Jana disagreed with the botulism diagnosis. She recalled mentioning that it was a rare disease and that she had exclusively breastfed him. She found it confusing. Prior to starting the tests, the hospital had already asked for the antitoxin without a confirmed diagnosis. The following day, the doctors gave the medicine, and the baby started to get better.

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