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Third Child Ill as Mead Johnson Says Tests Show Formula Safe

Updated on
Mead Johnson Rises After Company Says Infant Formula Is Safe
Enfamil infant formula, made by Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., sits on display in a supermarket in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A third infant tested positive for the Cronobacter bacteria that killed a newborn in Missouri and spurred the removal last week of baby formula from store shelves. A U.S. probe is continuing.

The baby, from Oklahoma, has been hospitalized and was given a different brand of formula than used in two previously reported cases of the infection, said Chris Braden of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., the world’s leading seller of children’s formula, said Dec. 25 that its tests showed no bacteria in a batch of formula used by the Missouri baby who died.

There’s too little evidence yet to say whether the Oklahoma illness is linked to baby formula, Braden said yesterday in a telephone interview. Regulators are testing powdered products in each of the cases, and have said they may have results this week. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday it will wait for the government results before deciding whether to return Mead Johnson’s formula to its shelves.

The Cronobacter bacteria “can be found in a lot of different places,” said Braden, who heads the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “Even if these infants were on powdered infant formula, and even the same powdered infant formula, we still don’t know yet if that’s the source of their infections.”

Braden declined to identify the product being tested in the Oklahoma case. The Atlanta-based CDC is working with state health departments and the Food and Drug Administration to study the infections and doesn’t want to mislead the public, he said.

The CDC is testing for “numerous types of exposures,” Kate Levinson, an agency spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.

Mead Johnson Rises

Mead Johnson rose 0.7 percent to $69.55 at 9:42 a.m. New York time. The Glenview, Illinois-based company had its biggest one-day gain in five months yesterday, increasing 5.8 percent, after announcing its test results. That was a rebound from a fall of 15 percent on Dec. 22 and 23, after retailers pulled Enfamil Newborn formula from their shelves.

Mead Johnson said in a Dec. 25 statement that it used formula samples matching those screened by U.S. regulators in the case involving the dead baby, and employed the same methods.

“Recent test results should absolve Mead Johnson of product safety concerns,” Edward Aaron, an RBC Capital Markets analyst in Denver, wrote yesterday in a note to clients. “While we expect some near-term impact on U.S sales, we don’t think it will be overly significant in the grand scheme of things.”

Wal-Mart, Kroger Co. and Walgreen Co. last week pulled a batch of Mead Johnson’s formula after the Missouri baby’s death was disclosed. Chris Perille, a Mead Johnson spokesman, said his company has received no contact from regulators or requests for samples to test in connection with the other two cases.

‘No Indication of Connection’

“There’s no indication of any connection whatsoever to any of our products,” he said.

Wal-Mart will await FDA results before deciding whether to return the product to its shelves, Dianna Gee, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, said yesterday in a telephone interview. Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreen, in Deerfield, Illinois, said he was gathering information and couldn’t yet comment. Messages weren’t returned by Keith Daley, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Kroger.

The Enfa brands, which include Enfamil, accounted for 79 percent of Mead Johnson’s $3.14 billion in 2010 revenue and were the world’s lead brand franchise in pediatric nutrition based on retail sales, the company said in a February filing.

The CDC is working with state regulators and the FDA in testing samples in the case of the Missouri baby who died, said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the foodborne infection division.

The second case involved an Illinois baby who fell sick in Missouri during a trip, officials have said. Public health officials are checking to see if the bacteria in the infections have the same genetic fingerprint, Tauxe said in a Dec. 23 telephone interview. If they do, that may suggest they came from the same source.

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