Hospitals influence infants' intestinal microbiomes

 Pig Ileum with and without NEC.  Figure taken from different study.

Pig Ileum with and without NEC.  Figure taken from different study.

As we have previously discussed, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a bacterial infection that often occurs in low weight, premature infants, that can lead to death.  The rates of NEC vary between neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), meaning that individual NICUs may play a role in causing NEC.  A new study published in the journal Microbiome sought to discover if different NICUs had any influence on a premature infants' gut microbiome.

Around 60 preterm babies had their microbiome studied during their first week of life.  Two hospitals were chosen for the study, one in Cincinnati, Ohio, the other in Birmingham, Alabama, over the course of two years.  The researchers discovered that while many of the infants' microbiomes showed similar characteristics, such as an abundance of Proteobacteria, there were nevertheless statistically significant differences in the microbiomes between hospitals, and temporally within hospitals.  For example, one hospital's infants had a higher level of Firmicutes than the other hospital.  

Understanding the risk factors for NEC will ultimately help prevent the disease, so while this study does not show any direct association between hospital and NEC, it shows the need for a large scale epidemiological study that spans many geographic areas over long periods of time.  

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