Prevention of Neonatal Necrotizing Enterocolitis

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SummarySmall premature infants are often hypochlorhydric, and frequently their stomachs are colonized by enteric, gram-negative bacteria. We tested a hypothesis that gastric pH affected the colonization of the stomach with enteric bacteria and that this colonization was causally related to the risk or severity of necrotizing enterocolitis. A prospective, double-blind study was conducted that compared a group of infants supplemented with 0.01–0.02 ml of 1 N HCl/ml of milk to a group with a similar supplement of water. Gastric pH, gastric enteric bacteria counts, and the incidence and severity of necrotizing enterocolitis were monitored. The median gastric pH of the HCl-supplemented group was lower (3.0) than controls (4.0) throughout the study (p < 0.001). The gastric enteric bacterial colonization rate and the quantitative bacterial counts were strongly correlated with gastric pH over 4 (p < 0.001). Somatic growth rates in infants in the HCl-supplemented group were equal to, or exceeded, those in the control group. There was 1 case of necrotizing entero-colitis among the 34 infants in the HCl-supplemented group and 8 cases among the 34 in the control group (p = 0.02). It appears that acidifying the feedings of small premature infants to a pH low enough to inhibit bacterial proliferation in the stomach significantly lowers the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.

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