Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Breastfeeding mother passes infection to child

HIGHLY UNUSUAL In a world first of the most undesirable kind, a Taiwanese mother recently infected her infant with the salmonella panama virus

By Wang Chang-min  /  STAFF REPORTER

There are numerous advantages to breastfeeding an infant, but Taiwan has now recorded its first case of an infant contracting meningitis as a result of the mother's breast milk being infected with salmonella bacteria.

Experts stress that this is an extremely rare case and underscore that breastfeeding is always the best option, provided attention is given to cleanliness and hygiene.

The case is also the world's first in which a child has been infected by the salmonella panama virus and was the subject of an article by the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. Although such cases are extremely rare, the report urges practicing doctors to be on the alert to avoid a repeat of the incident.

The infant, in excellent health at birth, was sent home with its mother after three days. Two weeks later, it developed a high fever of 39?C and was sent to a hospital in central Taiwan where it presented with symptoms of diarrhoea and eating disorders. After the bacterial infection developed into meningitis, the infant also contracted hydrocephalus, which required drainage treatment.

Siu Leung Kei (蕭樑基), a deputy researcher in the division of clinical research at NHRI, said the presence of mind of a doctor in the hospital's infectious diseases section, who took a bacterial culture from the mother's breast milk, allowed a comparison of bacterial DNA. This led to the discovery that the infant had the same salmonella bacteria as the mother, leading doctors to conclude that the mother had passed the infection on to her child. Breast feeding was suspended and the mother and child both recovered rapidly after being put on antibiotics.

Chen Chao-hui (陳昭惠), director of Taichung Veterans General Hospital's Neonatology department, stressed that this is an extremely rare case, and that, generally speaking, breast milk is much safer than prescription milk powder. Chen noted that milk powders in European and North American countries have been found to be infected with bacteria in recent years, which led to cases of infant blood poisoning and meningitis. This has forced the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention to issue instructions to medical institutions alerting staff to the fact that milk powder is not guaranteed free of bacteria.

Siu added that if a child repeatedly suffers from bacterial infections despite being fed in a safe and hygienic environment, one would have to suspect that it was the milk powder or breast milk that was infected. Adults infected with salmonella usually develop gastroenteritis, but infants have a lower resistance and their immune systems are not yet fully developed, and the result may therefore be that the salmonella bacteria leave the intestinal system and attack the brain.

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