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'Good' Bacteria Reduce Diarrhea in Babies

By Melissa Schorr

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Common bacteria can help cut the risk that hospitalized infants will develop diarrhea by 80%, Polish researchers report.

The research team investigated whether providing the infants with formula containing Lactobacillus GG (LGG) bacteria could prevent onset of diarrhea. LGG is known as a ``good"" microbe, or ``probiotic,"" which is naturally present in the gut and can help balance the presence of other harmful microbes, warding off intestinal problems.

``Administration of LGG significantly reduced the risk of hospital-acquired diarrhea in infants,"" Dr. Hanna Szajewska of The Medical University of Warsaw, Poland, and colleagues report in the March issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

The study enrolled 81 children under age 3 who were hospitalized in two pediatric medical centers in Poland for unrelated causes. Hospitalized infants are at an especially high risk of acquiring intestinal microbes such as the rotavirus, which can cause diarrhea and possibly lead to infant death.

In the study, half the children were given a formula containing LGG twice daily, while the others received an inactive placebo formula.

One third of the children receiving the placebo formula developed diarrhea, compared with only 7% of the children receiving the formula containing LGG. This translates to an 80% reduction in the risk of developing diarrhea.

Four children would need to be treated with the ``good"" bacteria to prevent a single case of diarrhea, the report indicates. There were no adverse side effects reported from the treatment.

``This is the latest in a string of studies that suggest lactobacillus can reduce the risk of contracting viral diarrheas,"" Dr. John Vanderhoof, a pediatrician at the University of Nebraska, told Reuters Health. ``This paper falls in line with all the others.""

There are several theories how probiotics might help prevent intestinal disorders: they may compete with harmful microbes for nutrients in the body, or may actually synthesize microbe-fighting compounds.

``I think you could make a case for giving the stuff to infants in a high-risk setting where they are more likely to contract a rotavirus,"" Vanderhoof said.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics 2001;138:361-365

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