Editor’s note: This was originally posted by eFoodAlert and is reposted here with the permission of the author.
Between December 1, 2021, and March 3, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received nine (9) reports of infant deaths among babies who were fed powdered infant formula manufactured by Abbott Nutrition in Sturgis, Michigan.
The infant death reports were included in a list of 128 consumer complaints supplied to eFoodAlert by the FDA in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. (see: Abbott Nutrition consumer complaints file, Redacted)
Two of the deaths were numbered among the four confirmed outbreak cases of Cronobacter sakazakii identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The other seven deaths were reported to the FDA via the agency’s consumer complaint system. Two of those reports mentioned Salmonella in the complaint description.
In addition to the nine deaths, consumers described twenty-five (25) incidents categorized as “Life Threatening Illness/Injury” and eighty (80) instances of “Non-Life Threatening Illness/Injury.”
Fourteen consumers contacted the FDA to obtain information or clarifications on the Abbott recall.
The complaints were lodged with FDA District Offices across the continental USA.
Salmonella was present in two of the dead babies, and was mentioned in seventeen other illness complaints.
One of the surviving infants was infected with both Salmonella and E. coli.
The symptoms suffered by the infants were mostly consistent with a gastrointestinal infection: fever (31 babies), vomiting (42 babies), diarrhea (47 babies), and blood in stool (6). Most babies suffered from multiple symptoms.
Other reported symptoms included loss of appetite, rash (either localized or spread over entire body), lethargy, dehydration, irritability, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
Some of the infants suffered from multiple infections:
The FDA did not respond to eFoodAlert‘s request for comment on what was done to follow up on the seven infant death reports that did not involve Cronobacter sakazakii, or on the non-fatal illnesses not involving Cronobacter.
According to an agency spokesperson, the FDA, along with the CDC and state and local partners, investigated consumer complaints and/or reports, received from September 20, 2021 to February 24, 2022, of infant illness.
The spokesperson did not address any of the more than thirty complaints–including three reported deaths–received by FDA district offices between February 25, 2022 and March 3, 2022.
Two of those three reported deaths referred to Salmonella.
The FDA investigation uncovered multiple instances of Cronobacter sakazakii in the environment of Abbott’s manufacturing facility.
None of the cultures retrieved from environmental samples were a genetic match for the strain that infected the two babies for which the CDC received cultures. The CDC did not receive cultures from the other two infected babies for genetic analysis.
Although there is no direct evidence in the form of genome sequencing to link any of the illnesses unequivocally to Abbott’s infant formulas, all of the complaints have one element in common.
Every one of the sick babies was fed an Abbott powdered formula.
The FDA has established an Incident Management Group (IMG) under Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response.
The IMG is tasked with managing the ongoing investigation and monitoring the infant formula supply chain, and will remain in place at least until the current supply shortage is over, according to the FDA spokesperson.
With production now having resumed–under close supervision–at the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, the time has come to acknowledge the lives that were lost.
We know very little about the nine infants who died. For privacy reasons, their names, ages, genders, where they lived, and when they died have been withheld. They are identified only by their unique Complaint ID numbers.
Complaint ID #171222, reported December 1, 2021. Infant arrived to the ER in cardiac arrest. Cronobacter sakazakii and Proteus mirabilis. Infant had consumed Similac Pro-Total Comfort (Powder) infant formula, Lot #23495K80.
Complaint ID #172435, reported February 22, 2022. Vomiting, swollen organs, trouble breathing. Infant had consumed Similac Advance, Lot #34875K80.
Complaint ID #172477, reported February 22, 2022. Screaming. Infant had consumed Similac Total Comfort Easy-to-Digest Gentle Protein & Prebiotics, et al, infant formula powder, Lot #34869K80.
Complaint ID #172479, reported February 23, 2022. Fever, diarrhea, loss of appetite, vomiting. Infant had consumed Similac Advanced infant formula. Lot number not available.
Complaint ID #172541, reported February 24, 2022. Tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii. Infant had consumed Similac PM 60/40, Lot #27032K800.
Complaint ID #172585, reported February 24, 2022. No details available. Infant had consumed EleCare infant formula, Lot number not available.
Complaint ID #172607, reported February 28, 2022. Cause of death and opinion pending further studies (Congenital). Infant had consumed Similac Elecare powdered infant formula, Lot #34771Z21 1306305
Complaint ID #172632, reported March 2, 2022. Salmonella meningitis, ventriculitis, vomit, diarrhea, seizures, bradycardia. Infant had consumed Similac Pro Advance infant formula, Lot #25598SHO 0557 015 SIMESPWD.
Complaint ID #172636, reported March 2, 2022. Salmonella. Infant had consumed Similac Total Comfort, Lot #26834K80.
May they rest in peace.