Background: Childhood gastroenteritis is associated with considerable health costs. The natural clay dioctahedral smectite increases intestinal barrier function and is effective against infectious diarrhea in children in developing countries. The purpose of this work was to investigate the efficacy of smectite in Italian children with acute diarrhea of mild to moderate severity.
Methods: A national, prospective, randomized, case-controlled study was performed in collaboration with primary care pediatricians. Children seen by pediatricians for acute gastroenteritis were treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS) alone or ORS with smectite. Parents returned a form in which total duration of diarrhea, incidence of vomiting and fever, persistence of diarrhea for more than 7 days and hospital admissions were recorded.
Results: Eight hundred four children with acute diarrhea were randomly assigned to treated or control groups. Administration of smectite was associated with significant reduction of the duration of diarrhea, as judged by stool frequency and consistency. The incidence and duration of vomiting and fever were not different. Diarrhea lasted more than 7 days in 10% of treated and in 18% of control children (P < 0.01). Hospital admission was necessary in seven treated and six control children. No side effects were observed.
Conclusions: Smectite reduces the duration of diarrhea and prevents a prolonged course. It may therefore consistently reduce the costs of gastroenteritis.