Pennsylvania considered 'hotbed' for bacteria that causes infant botulism

PITTSBURGH — Bacteria that nearly killed an infant living in Washington County can be found in the soil in western Pennsylvania.

Aarolin Groszkiewicz was just 3 months old when her mother, Natalie, began to notice mild symptoms. What started with not wanting to eat escalated quickly.

Within 24 hours, Aarolin's body started shutting down. She lost all muscle control, she was unable to swallow, and couldn't even cry. Her mother said she thought she might lose her baby.

Natalie rushed Aarolin to UPMC Children's Hospital, where she received a diagnosis she wasn't expecting: infant botulism.

"We moved fast to a botulism baby because we know time is of the essence," said  Dr. Andrew Norwalk, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital. "I examined child, I talked to family, I said I'm very certain this is infant botulism."

Unlike botulism that's caused by eating tainted food or giving infants honey, infant botulism is caused by bacteria carried through the air by invisible spores.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported a total of 21 cases of infant botulism across the state in 2015, and nine as of September 2016.

Pennsylvania is considered a "hotbed" for the bacteria that causes the disease. And it's almost impossible to prevent a child from contracting the disease.

"It can be in the air," Norwalk said. "It could be on an article of clothing that she ingests. Basically their systems aren't strong enough to fight it off."

Infant botulism is rare. In Aarolin's case, the antidote was flown in from a special lab in California. If a child is given the treatment early enough, they can have a full recovery.

That's what happened with Aarolin.  She is now completely healthy.  Her mother is grateful.

"I feel so lucky and blessed that I have three healthy beautiful children in the end of all of this." Grozkiewicz said.

For more information on infant botulism,

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