Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Gastrointestinal Infections

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Gastrointestinal Infections

Article excerpt

Worldwide, nearly 2 million people per year die from diarrhea, the vast majority of them in poor countries in Africa and Asia. The disease accounts for 18% of all deaths among children--and yet is almost always preventable with proper treatment. Now, new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicates that underlying, low-level undiagnosed infection may greatly add to the severity of a significant number of these cases. This realization could lead to changes in healthcare strategies to address the problem.

The findings, reported by David Schauer, MIT professor of biological engineering and comparative medicine, show that these undiagnosed gastrointestinal infections increase the severity of and delay recovery from acute diarrhea: The analysis provides a model that could allow public health officials to evaluate new preventive strategies or therapeutic treatments. The work grew out of the increasing recognition of the relationship between persistent, chronic infections many people carry and the outcomes of later disease infection.

"It seemed likely that persistent enteric infection with bacterial agents would also elicit immune responses that could have similar effects. However, this had not been previously studied," Schauer says. "We wanted to provide proof of principle and begin to define the mechanism for such an interaction."

To study the possible effects of these chronic infections, Schauer and his team used laboratory mice infected first with a strain of bacteria that causes a chronic condition but produces no symptoms, and then with a second infectious agent that causes acute diarrhea. …

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