Polymicrobial enteric infections in African infants with diarrhoea-results from a longitudinal prospective case-control study

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2021 Dec;27(12):1792-1798. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2021.03.020. Epub 2021 Apr 1.


Objectives: This longitudinal case-control study aimed to determine the frequency of polymicrobial enteric detections in Ghanaian infants with and without diarrhoea.

Methods: Infants aged 1-12 months with and without diarrhoea attending the outpatient department of a peri-urban Ghanaian hospital were prospectively assessed and stool samples were collected on days 0, 6 and 28 and analysed for 18 enteric pathogens with PCR.

Results: At least one enteric pathogen was detected in 100 of 107 cases with diarrhoea (93%) and in 82 of 97 controls (85%). The number of pathogens was higher in cases than in controls (median three versus two pathogens, p 0.001). The adjusted attributable fraction (AF) for diarrhoea was highest for enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (7.2%, 95% CI -2.0% to 16.3%), rotavirus (4.1%, 95% CI 0.6%-7.5%), Giardia lamblia (2.3%, 95% CI -0.7 to 5.3%) and astrovirus (2.3%, 95% CI -2.9 to 7.5%). In cases, a higher pathogen number was significantly associated with watery stool consistency (median 3, interquartile range (IQR) 2-5 versus median 2.5, IQR 1-4, p 0.014), stool frequency five or more per day (median 4, IQR 3-5 versus median 3, IQR 2-4, p 0.048) and vomiting (median 4, IQR 3-5 versus median 3, IQR 2-4, p 0.025). During follow-up, 94% (78/83) of cases and 85% (67/79) of controls had acquired at least one new pathogen without developing a new episode of diarrhoea.

Conclusion: Enteric pathogens could be identified in the stool of the vast majority of Ghanaian infants, whereby pathogens were very frequently acquired without resulting in new episodes of diarrhoea during follow-up. A higher number of co-occurring pathogens may increase the risk of diarrhoea and disease severity.

Keywords: African children; Diarrhoea; Polymicrobial enteric infections; Rotavirus; Tropheryma whipplei.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Coinfection* / diagnosis
  • Diarrhea* / epidemiology
  • Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli
  • Feces
  • Ghana / epidemiology
  • Giardia lamblia
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Rotavirus