A Prospective Study Of Diarrhea And HIV-1 Infection Among 429 Zairian Infants

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Abstract

Background

Persistent diarrhea is a prominent feature of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome in adults, but its cause and its effect on children with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are largely unknown, particularly in Africa.

Methods

We studied a birth cohort of 429 infants born to HIV-positive or HIV-negative mothers in Zaire to determine the incidence of acute, recurrent ( greater/= 2 episodes), and persistent ( greater/= 14 days) diarrhea; outcome; and risk factors.

Results

Of the 238 infants whose mothers were HIV-positive, 53 were infected, 139 were uninfected, and the HIV status of 46 could not be determined. As compared with uninfected infants, infected infants had higher incidence rates for acute diarrhea (170 vs. 100 episodes per 100 child-years, P = 0.003), recurrent diarrhea (21 vs. 11, P = 0.12), and persistent diarrhea (19 vs. 4, P<0.003). Persistent diarrhea developed in 11 HIV-infected infants; all but 1 died. It also developed in 19 uninfected infants; all but 1 survived. The prevalence of stool pathogens was similar in the two groups. In a multivariate model, persistent diarrhea in an infant was independently associated with symptomatic HIV type 1 infection in the mother (relative hazard, 1.5; P = 0.08). The incidence of persistent diarrhea in the uninfected infants of seropositive mothers was nearly double that in the uninfected infants of seronegative mothers (4.9 vs. 2.7 episodes per 100 child-years), and the risk increased if the mother died (relative hazard, 10.4). Significant growth impairment and severe immunosuppression occurred in the six to eight weeks before the onset of persistent diarrhea.

Conclusions

In Zaire, infants with HIV infection have an 11-fold increased risk of death from diarrhea, largely persistent diarrhea, which is often preceded by recurrent episodes of acute diarrhea, malnutrition, or immunosuppression. Illness and death of the mother increase that risk, even among her uninfected infants. (N Engl J Med 1993;329:1696-702.)

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