In a refreshed warning this week, the government discusses Cronobacter contamination, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminded consumers is sometimes found in powdered infant formulas, and to a lesser degree herbal teas, starches and powdered milk.
Formerly known as Enterobacter sakazakii — a germ found naturally in the environment that can survive in very dry conditions — the pathogen can be particularly dangerous to infants, the CDC reports. Infants who are fed formulas made from powders should be taken to a doctor if they develop symptoms of Cronobacter infection.
Cronobacter has been found in various dry foods, such as formula, powdered milk, herbal teas and starches. It has also been found in sewer water and may be found in other places, too, according to the CDC.
Adults don’t often get sick from Cronobacter infection, but it can be deadly in infants. Typically, the CDC is informed of four to six cases in infants each year, but reporting isn’t required so the true number is unknown, the agency noted.
Cronobacter bacteria can cause severe blood infections or meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spine. Infants two months of age and younger are most likely to develop meningitis if they are infected with Cronobacter. Infants born prematurely and those with weakened immune systems are also at increased risk for serious sickness from Cronobacter, the CDC warns.
In infants, the sickness generally starts with fever and usually includes poor feeding, crying or very low energy. Very young infants with these symptoms should be taken to a doctor.
Cronobacter can also cause diarrhea, problems in wounds, and urinary tract infections in people of all ages. At the highest risk are the elderly and people whose bodies have trouble fighting germs because of a sickness they already have.
In some outbreak investigations, Cronobacter was found in powdered infant formula that had been contaminated in the factory. In other cases, Cronobacter might have contaminated the powdered infant formula after it was opened at home or elsewhere during preparation, according to the CDC.
Because Cronobacter lives in the general environment, it’s likely there have been other sources of this rare sickness.
Using current methods, manufacturers report that it is not possible to get rid of all germs in powdered infant formula in the factory. Powdered infant formula can also be contaminated after the containers are opened. Very young infants, infants born prematurely, and infants whose bodies have trouble fighting off germs are at highest risk.
Here are some ways CDC says you can protect your infant:
- Breastfeed. Breastfeeding helps prevent many kinds of sicknesses among infants. Almost no cases of Cronobacter sickness have been reported among infants who were being exclusively breastfed.
- If your baby gets formula, choose infant formula sold in liquid form, especially when your baby is a newborn or very young. Liquid formulations are made to be sterile and therefore should not contain Cronobacter germs.
- If you use powdered infant formula, follow these steps:
- Clean up before preparation
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Clean bottles in a dishwasher with hot water and a heated drying cycle, or scrub bottles in hot, soapy water and then sterilize them.
- Clean work surfaces, such as countertops and sinks.
- Prepare safely
- Keep powdered formula lids and scoops clean and be careful about what they touch.
- Close containers of infant formula or bottled water as soon as possible.
- Use hot water (158 degrees F/70 degrees C and above) to make formula.
- Carefully shake, rather than stirring, formula in the bottle.
- Cool formula to ensure it is not too hot before feeding your baby by running the prepared, capped bottle under cool water or placing it into an ice bath, taking care to keep the cooling water from getting into the bottle or on the nipple.
- Use up quickly or store safely
- Use formula within two hours of preparation. If the baby does not finish the entire bottle of formula, throw away the unused formula.
- If you do not plan to use the prepared formula right away, refrigerate it immediately and use it within 24 hours. Refrigeration slows the growth of germs and increases safety.
- When in doubt, throw it out. If you can’t remember how long you have kept formula in the refrigerator, it is safer to throw it out than to feed it to your baby.
More information can be found here.
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