According to the CDC, diarrhea was actually the third leading cause of death in 1900. And during the mid-twentieth century, this ailment claimed the lives of approximately 4.5 million children under the age of five every single year.
Nowadays, oral rehydration therapy has been lifesaving and has severely cut down the death rate. Unfortunately, though, this therapy does not protect against or prevent infection.
There are still millions of adolescents who live in low or middle-income countries that consistently suffer bouts of diarrhea.
And these episodes leave the body weakened and malnourished and can even result in stunted growth and the inability to fight off various infections.
So recently, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine set out to study how exactly Escherichia coli– or E. coli– causes intestinal bacteria damage that can lead to malnutrition and stunted growth.
On top of that, they found that vaccinating against an E. coli-produced toxin protected mice- and could potentially protect humans– against intestinal damage.
“Ideally, we’d like to have a vaccine that prevents acute diarrhea, which still kills half a million children a year, and that also protects against long-term effects such as malnutrition, which is perhaps the bigger part of the problem now,” explained James M. Fleckenstein, the study’s senior author.
While E. coli is already a common cause of diarrhea throughout the world, there are different strains in the United States and other wealthy nations that usually do not carry the same toxins as strains in poorer countries.
So, Fleckenstein specifically studies one type of E.coli known as enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC)– which was named after the two toxins it produces, as well as the toxic effect this strain has on children.
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