Wal-Mart awaits results from removed formula
Thursday, December 22, 2011
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Wal-Mart and health officials awaited tests Thursday on a batch of powdered infant formula that was removed from more than 3,000 stores nationwide after a Missouri newborn who consumed it apparently died from a rare infection.
The source of the bacteria that caused the infection has not been determined, but it occurs naturally in the environment and in plants such as wheat and rice. The most worrisome appearances have been in dried milk and powdered formula, which is why manufacturers routinely test for the germs.
Meanwhile, an Illinois infant is recovering from the same unusual bacterial infection that prompted a nationwide voluntary recall of baby formula.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Thursday an Illinois infant contracted the infection Cronobacter sakazakii. Such illnesses are rare.
It’s unclear whether the Illinois child drank any of the type of formula removed from more than 3,000 stores nationwide by Wal-Mart. Health officials say the Illinois infant was fed several types of powdered infant formula.
Wal-Mart pulled the Enfamil Newborn formula from shelves as a precaution following the death of little Avery Cornett in the south central Missouri town of Lebanon.
The formula has not been recalled, and the manufacturer said tests showed the batch was negative for the bacteria before it was shipped. Additional tests were under way.
“We decided it was best to remove the product until we learn more,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said. “It could be returned to the shelves.”
Customers who bought formula in 12.5-ounce cans with the lot number ZP1K7G have the option of returning them for a refund or exchange, Gee said.
The product is not exclusive to Wal-Mart. The manufacturer, Mead Johnson Nutrition, declined to answer questions about whether formula from that batch was distributed to other stores.
“We’re highly confident in the safety and quality of our products,” said Christopher Perille, a spokesman for the company based in the Chicago suburb of Glenview.
A second infant fell ill late last month after consuming several different types of powdered baby formula, but that child recovered, health officials said.
Powdered infant formula is not sterile, and experts have said there are not adequate methods to completely remove or kill all bacteria that might creep into formula before or during production.
Preliminary hospital tests indicated that Avery died of a rare infection caused by bacteria known as Cronobacter sakazakii. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s deemed extremely dangerous to babies less than 1 month old and those born premature.
The virus “is pervasive in the environment,” Perille said. “There’s a whole range of potential sources on how this infection may have got started.”
A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is investigating the death, along with the Centers for Disease Control and the Missouri Department of Health. Investigators have collected samples from the family and are testing unopened formula purchased at stores.
Siobhan Delancey said the FDA gets four to six reports a year of infant infections related to formula and has not found a powder that tested positive since 2002.
Public health investigators will look at the formula itself, as well as the water used in preparing it and at anything else the baby might have ingested, Perille said.
It could be several days before test results are available.
Avery was taken to a pediatrician Dec. 15 — a week after he was born — after showing signs of stomach pain and lethargy. When the pain persisted the next day, his parents took him to an emergency room.
He died Sunday at a hospital in Springfield after being removed from life support.
The Missouri Department of Health advised parents to follow safety guidelines for preparing powdered infant formula, including washing hands, sterilizing all feeding equipment in hot, soapy water and preparing enough formula for only one feeding at a time.
A flood of calls from worried parents prompted Missouri officials to clarify that the formula pulled by Wal-Mart is not being provided to participants in the Women, Infants and Children federal program for low-income parents.