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Necrotising enterocolitis: is there a relationship to specific pathogens?


Outbreaks of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) have often been related to specific pathogens such as Enterobacteriaceae. This relationship, however, remains uncertain because of the retrospective nature of the studies addressing this issue. We performed a prospective study to investigate whether there is indeed an association between NEC and specific pathogens. Between April 1993 and March 1997, stools of neonates of <36 weeks admitted to our neonatal unit were investigated for bacteria in weekly intervals. Clinical and bacteriological data from each infant who developed NEC were compared with those from two control infants matched for gestational age and date of admission. Eighteen infants developed 19 episodes of NEC (clinical signs + air in portal vein); 8 of these had laparotomy; two died. Occurences of NEC were homogeneously distributed over the 4- year study period. The only significant differences in the clinical course prior to NEC were a more severe stage of respiratory distress syndrome [median 2 (0–4) vs. 0 (0–3), P < 0.05] and a higher proportion of infants who had only been formula fed (63 vs. 32%, P < 0.05) in the cases. Within the last week prior to NEC, potentially pathogenic bacteria were identified in stools of all cases and 79% of controls (P < 0.05). However, there was no significant difference in the occurrence of specific pathogens or groups of pathogens in cases compared with controls.

Conclusion Although gut colonisation with potential pathogens appeared to be a prerequisite for the development of NEC, there were no specific bacteria associated with this disease if data from infants with NEC were compared with those from time- and gestational age-matched controls.

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Received: 5 September 1997 / Accepted in revised form: 2 March 1998

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Peter, C., Feuerhahn, M., Bohnhorst, B. et al. Necrotising enterocolitis: is there a relationship to specific pathogens?. Eur J Pediatr 158, 67–70 (1999).

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  • Key words Necrotising enterocolitis Pathogens
  • Temporal distribution