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Recalled Michigan-made baby formula alarms Detroit area parents

Parents in Metro Detroit and nationwide have been alarmed by the recall of a popular baby formula manufactured in Michigan after federal investigators determined it might be linked to some infants’ illnesses and deaths. 

The recall includes Similac, Similac PM, Alimentum and EleCare formulas manufactured by Abbott Laboratories at a plant in the southwest Michigan town of Sturgis.

Tens of thousands of Michigan babies have been receiving Similac formulas through WIC, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. 

Michigan has 198,465 people enrolled in the WIC program, including about 38,000 infants who are partially or exclusively fed with formula, said Michigan Department of Health and Human Service spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin. About 85% of Michigan WIC clients who have formula included in their food packages are affected by the Similac recall, Sutfin said.

Abbott issued the voluntary recall in February after the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that four infants who were hospitalized with infections had been fed formula from those lots, including two babies who died. 

Wendy Jackson, 49, of Southfield said she plans to sue Abbott over the Similac she fed to her 2-and-a-half-month-old son, Daxton, for weeks after running into problems with breastfeeding. He struggled with digestion issues and skin rashes that she suspects might have been caused by the formula. 

“I switched to another brand of formula, and all the symptoms started to go away,” Jackson said. “The next thing you know, they had a recall.”

Jackson is represented by Southfield Attorney Dionne Webster Cox, who said her phone was “ringing off the hook” Wednesday with calls from parents whose babies were fed some of the recalled formula. 

Jackson said the lot numbers on the bottom of one of the formula cans matched one of the lot numbers recalled by the company. She planned to discuss her suspicions about the formula with Daxton’s pediatrician at an appointment on Friday. 

On Feb. 17, Abbott voluntarily recalled lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare products produced at the southwest Michigan facility. The expansive recall included nearly 50 brands marketed under those names. 

Then on Feb. 28, Similac PM 60/40 powdered formula also was recalled, in response to a report that an infant who had consumed Similac PM 60/40 from that lot had died after testing positive for Cronobacter sakazakii, a form of severe infection from a foodborne pathogen. 

The company has said bacteria was found in parts of the Sturgis manufacturing facility that are not involved in production of the formulas. In a statement emailed to The Detroit News, Abbott said the company keeps retained samples of each batch.

“We tested retained product samples related to the complaints for Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella, and they tested negative,” Abbott company said in its statement. 

What investigations have found

In the cases under investigation, the infants were infected with Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria sometimes found in dry foods, like powdered infant formula, powdered milk, herbal teas and starches. Cronobacter has been linked to meningitis and other serious infections in infants, sometimes resulting in death. 

The illnesses and deaths occurred in Minnesota, Ohio and Texas, and remain under joint investigation by the CDC and FDA, as well as the state and local health departments where the incidents occurred. 

The investigation initially included four reports of Cronobacter sakazakii infections in infants, three from complaints filed with the FDA, and one from a CDC case finding, as well as one complaint of a Salmonella Newport infection in an infant.

All five illnesses resulted in hospitalization, and investigators concluded that Cronobacter may have contributed to the deaths of two of the patients.