Va. Baby With Botulism Released From Hospital

A baby boy from Woodstock, Virginia, is going home after being stricken with a rare case of botulism.

Benjamin Shell was released from Inova Fairfax Hospital Tuesday.

Benjamin was rushed to hospital June 27, too weak to even open his eyes. The tiny infant almost died as the potent toxin attacked his tiny body. Right away, doctors suspected botulism and began treating Benjamin with a medication called BabyBIG, a purified antibody. 

"I was honestly thinking, How am I going to tell my two older sons that their brother is not coming home?" said Antonette Shell, Benjamin's mother.

After about three weeks of treatment, Antonette Shell can finally bring good news to her two sons at home. 

The illness is so rare only about 100 babies nationwide suffer from botulism each year.

"They were dumbfounded," said Antonette Shell. "They were wondering how could such a healthy baby boy ... just get sick so fast and so easily."

Inova Pediatric Intensivist Dr. Michael Vish has only treated three cases of botulism in his 12-year career.

"Botulism toxin is actually the most potent toxin known to man," explained Vish. "That toxin makes somebody weak, and it affects their (baby's) breathing muscles so children aren't able to breathe and that can be severe and cause low oxygen levels and even death."

Shell said even after the medication was started, there was a terrifying moment when she almost lost her son.

"It got bad ... At one point they had to resuscitate him," said Shell, her eyes filling with tears.

Dr. Vish tells parents while botulism is impossible to avoid, good hand-washing practices can help. Pediatricians also advise parents of children under the age of 1 to avoid giving babies honey, because it can carry botulism spores.

He and Shell also urge parents not to overlook the symptoms.

"It's weakness we see, a poor cry, a soft cry, a baby seeming floppy," said Vish. "Those are big warning signs for any child no matter what that they have to seek medical attention."

Poor sucking or nursing and constipation can also signal a problem.

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