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Cronobacter Infection in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What is a Cronobacter infection?

Cronobacter are bacteria that can live in dry places. The bacteria are usually found in powdered baby formula, powdered milk, and herbal teas. A Cronobacter infection is rare but can be life-threatening for infants who are days or weeks old. An infection can cause inflammation around the brain, blood poisoning, or an intestine infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of a Cronobacter infection?

  • Fever, crying, and irritability
  • Poor feeding, stomach pain, or vomiting
  • Blood in the bowel movements, or a swollen abdomen
  • Seizures, jaundice (yellow eyes or skin), or grunting when breathing

How is a Cronobacter infection diagnosed and treated?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine him or her and ask about signs and symptoms. Tell the provider when they started, and if they are getting worse. Also tell the provider if you give your child powdered formula, even if you are also breastfeeding. Your child's provider will test a sample of blood to check for infection. The test will show if the bacteria are Cronobacter. Other tests may be used to see if your infant has a brain infection. Your child will need to be treated in the hospital with IV antibiotics.

What can I do to prevent a Cronobacter infection?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands before you make a bottle with formula. Wash your hands after you cough or sneeze, use the bathroom, or change a baby's diaper. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Breastfeed your baby, if possible. This will prevent infection from powdered formula. Breast milk is the only nutrition your baby needs for the first year of life.
  • Keep formula safe. Most powdered formula is safe. You can take some extra steps to help protect your baby from the bacteria:
    • If you want to use powdered formula, mix the formula with water that is hot enough to kill bacteria (158°F or 70°C). Boil the water before you use it to mix formula. Do not put a thermometer in the water, because bacteria may be on it. Cool the formula before you give it to your baby. Test it on your wrist to make sure it is not too hot.
    • Do not let the container's lid or scoop touch anything that is not clean. Close the container as soon as possible after you use it.
    • Formula also comes in liquid form. Liquid formula comes in sterile packages that prevent Cronobacter infection.
    • Use all formula right away, or store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Throw away any formula your baby does not drink. Do not save it for a later feeding.
  • Wash bottles and nipples in hot, soapy water. Use a dishwasher if possible. Set the water temperature and drying cycle on hot. If you do not have a dishwasher, use hot, soapy water to clean the bottles and nipples. Then sterilize them in a bottle sterilizer or in boiling water.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your infant has any signs or symptoms of Cronobacter infection, such as poor feeding or irritability.
  • Your infant has a fever.
  • Your child has new or worsening signs or symptoms.
  • Your child's signs or symptoms do not get better or get worse, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.