By Dr. Anthony Policastro

There is an old adage that goes, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

That saying clearly predates the Internet and social media. There are some exchanges that occur online that involve medical knowledge. The individuals sharing the information have no medical training. However, they think they know more than anyone else. By speaking they just show their ignorance.

A recent example of this caught my eye. There were people commenting on the FDA recommendation against giving infants honey:

Person #1 – “Am I the only one thinking that honey has to be some sort of golden formula you should give your babies as much as possible if the government is trying so hard to push against it.”

Person #2 – “I was actually thinking the same. I don’t trust the WHO or FDA.”

Person #3 – “I gave my boys honey before the age of 1. I do not nor will ever trust anything that the FDA, WHO of seeDsee [sic] says.”

The sum total of their medical knowledge on the subject was that if the FDA says it, then it must be a lie.

They clearly had never heard of the disease botulism. Based upon the last person’s spelling of CDC, they clearly could not spell botulism anyway.

One of the issues here is the fact that infant botulism is rare. There are only 70 or so cases reported every year in the U.S. The average age of onset is 13 weeks. It was first recognized in 1976. Infant botulism is the most common form of botulism in the U.S.

Botulism is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It is caused when the spores of the organism are ingested. Once in the intestinal tract, they release a toxin.

The toxin affects the nervous system, it results in paralysis and the paralysis can involve the nerves in the brain. It can involve the nerves that control our breathing. As one might expect making this kind of diagnosis in an infant can be difficult. It also can be fatal if the diagnosis is made too late.

The treatment is giving an antitoxin to the toxins that are building up inside the body.

The spores have been found in honey and cane sugar. Thus, it makes sense to not feed young infants honey.

The problem is that the disease is so rare that most people have never heard of it. It is not something that I would usually think about writing for my column because of that.

However, there are clearly some people out there who need to hear about it. The FDA has nothing to do with it. They are simply passing on a warning from the medical experts about illness prevention.

People showing their lack of medical knowledge on social media also appears to be a lot more common than botulism. It would probably be better if they remained silent in the first place.