CDC advisory: Infant death caused by contaminated probiotic powder

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put out a health advisory after a premature infant in Connecticut died in October of a rare fungal infection of the intestines called Mucormycosis.

The baby first had signs and symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which results from poor blood flow to the gut, is a major cause of disability and death in sick premature babies and is diagnosed after the sudden development of fever, swollen abdomen and inability to feed. However, the entire gut from stomach to anus was involved instead of a localized segment of the bowel, which led to further testing. The hospital laboratory cultured a mold Rhizopus oryzae from the child’s blood that seemed to be responsible, but where did it come from?

Human beings have 10 times as many bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract as they have human cells in their whole bodies. Newborn get most of these necessary bacteria that help their bodies work from their mothers, but in an ill newborn this normal transference of gut flora is interrupted by being early and isolated from the mother in the sick baby nursery and, often, by needing antibiotics which kill off the needed bacteria along with the dangerous ones. 

A recent review combining many studies together has recommended that “probiotics” be given to premature babies to replace the gut bacteria that they did not have. NEC seems to result from a lack of proper gut flora transport from mother to child so probiotic dietary supplementation was given. In this case, the hospital used ABC Dophilus Powder by Solgar Inc of Leonia, NJ.

Since probiotics are classified as “dietary supplements” not “medicines,” they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Unfortunately, when unopened bottles of this supplement were cultured they grew the same rare mold that apparently killed this premature baby. On November 14, Solgar issued a voluntary recall of a few ABC Dophilus Powder lots. This product was distributed to 29 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Israel through pharmacies, retail stores, wholesalers, and online retailers. 

Disruption of the microscopic biological flora of the gut is a major cause of illness and is probably a contributor to such widely disparate problems as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic abdominal pain, and obesity.  Live-culture yogurt and over the counter probiotics are strongly recommended by many medical practitioners, including myself, but this contamination in a product intended for newborns is disturbing. Regulation for purity and of cleanliness of dietary supplement must be seriously considered in the U.S. as it already is in Germany and other European nations.

The CDC currently recommends:

  • Solgar ABC Dophilus Powder should not be used, especially in infants who may be especially susceptible to infection.
  • In considering the use of any dietary supplement, clinicians should consider that the FDA does not regulate these products as drugs.
Concerned about this lack of regulation? Contact your elected representatives and tell them dietary supplements intended for children should follow FDA rules on cleanliness and purity. Remember “all natural” does not mean “good for you.,” or even safe.

 

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »

Continue Reading