Clinical Impact of Abnormal Gut Flora in Infants Receiving Parenteral Nutrition

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Illness is associated with the carriage of abnormal flora (aerobic Gram-bacilli except E. coli) in the oropharynx and rectum. The aim of this study was to investigate whether carriage of abnormal flora is associated with increased risk of sepsis and septicemia in surgical newborn infants.


A 2-year prospective study was carried out on 94 consecutive newborn infants requiring parenteral nutrition (PN) for gastrointestinal abnormalities. Throat and rectal swabs were taken on day 1 of PN and twice weekly. Patients were divided into two groups: abnormal flora (AF; n = 41) and normal flora (NF; n = 53). Sepsis was defined as clinical features of generalized inflammation requiring blood culture. Septicemia was the combination of sepsis and positive blood culture.


Among the infants carrying abnormal flora Pseudomonas and Enterobacter spp. predominated. Duration of PN (AF median 30 days; NF median 9 days), incidence of sepsis (AF 29%; NF 6%), and septicemia (AF 22%; NF 2%) were significantly greater in the group of infants with abnormal flora. Surveillance cultures allow the detection of a subset of infants on PN at high risk of sepsis and septicemia. The degree of gut dysfunction related to the severity of underlying disease determines the duration of PN and the development of abnormal flora. The association between abnormal carriage and increased risk of sepsis and septicemia may be because of the intestinal endotoxin pool known to cause liver impairment and consequent suppression of systemic immunity.

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