News article

Impact of breastfeeding on lowering the risk of acute gastroenteritis in children

Posted:  Thursday, July 21, 2016

Significance of breastfeeding in lowering the risk of acute gastroenteritis in children

Globally, rotavirus (RV) is a major cause of death in children below 5 years of age, particularly in low-income countries. It causes acute gastroenteritis and severe dehydration in children. Although continued breastfeeding is advised during diarrhoea, the protective role of breastfeeding in RV-infected diarrhoea is not well established. A new study published in the journal PLOS One investigated the impact of breastfeeding on RV-induced diarrhoea in Indian children.

Children less than 2 years of age visiting paediatric facilities of Nalanda Medical College, Patna or Child Care Center, Patna, Bihar, for 2 consecutive years were enrolled into the study. One hundred and seventy-three blood and stool samples were collected; among them, 145 samples belonged to diarrhoea-infected children, and 28 samples were from healthy children without diarrhoea during the last 14 days. Stool and blood samples were screened for the presence of RV antigen.

Among diarrhoea-infected children, RV was detected in the faecal samples of 94 children. One hundred and two children had fever, 82 children complained of mild or severe dehydration, and 124 had vomiting. Most of the children (40%) presented with episodes of diarrhoea for more than 4 days at the time of hospitalisation. The majority of the children (67.5%) were treated with intravenous and/or oral rehydration. Out of the 145 children infected with diarrhoea, 111 (76.5%) were non-breastfed. The incidence of RV-induced diarrhoea was higher among non-breastfed infants compared to breastfed infants. Among breastfed infants, the prevalence of RV-infected diarrhoea was high in infants aged 7–12 months compared to infants aged 0–6 months and 13–24 months. The prevalence of RV antigen and RV antigenaemia in blood and serum samples of non-breastfed infants was high and more apparent in infants aged 0–6 months.

The study had some limitations. A higher rate of RV antigen was detected in RV-infected children compared to other reports. This could be due to the study population chosen, the duration of the onset of diarrhoea, or the highly sensitive detection methods used.

The study concluded that out of the children studied, more than half of the children showed the presence of RV in stool samples; fever; mild-to-severe dehydration; and vomiting. Infants who were not exclusively breastfed were at risk of RV diarrhoea. Breast milk contains bioactive components that offer protection against disease-causing pathogens and boost immunity in children. Awareness of the importance of breastfeeding through campaigns and counselling programmes is necessary, particularly in low-income countries.

News source - Das S, Sahoo GC, Das P, Singh UK, Jaiswal AK, Singh P, Kumar R, Kumar R. Evaluating the Impact of Breastfeeding on Rotavirus Antigenemia and Disease Severity in Indian Children. PloS one. 2016 Feb 1; 11(2):e0146243.