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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Pathogens associated with persistent diarrhoea in children in low and middle income countries: systematic review

Katharine Abba1*, Rebecca Sinfield2, C Anthony Hart and Paul Garner1

Author Affiliations

1 International Health, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, L3 5QA, UK

2 Arrowe Park Hospital, Arrowe Park Road, Upton, Wirral, Merseyside, CH49 5PE, UK

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:88  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-88

Published: 10 June 2009



Persistent diarrhoea in children is a common problem in low and middle income countries. To help target appropriate treatment for specific pathogens in the absence of diagnostic tests, we systematically reviewed pathogens most commonly associated with persistent diarrhoea in children.


We sought all descriptive studies of pathogens in the stool of children with diarrhoea of over 14 days duration in low and middle income countries with a comprehensive search of the MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS and WEB OF SCIENCE databases. We described the study designs and populations, assessed the quality of the laboratory tests, and extracted and summarised data on pathogens. For Escherichia coli, we calculated high and low prevalence estimates of all enteropathic types combined. Results across studies were compared for geographical patterns.


Nineteen studies were included. Some used episodes of diarrhoea as the unit of analysis, others used children. The quality of reporting of laboratory procedures varied, and pathogens (particularly E. coli types) were classified in different ways. As there were no apparent regional differences in pathogen prevalence, we aggregated data between studies to give a guide to overall prevalence. Enteropathic E. coli types were commonly found in children with persistent diarrhoea (up to 63%). Various other organisms, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, were detected but across all studies their prevalence was under 10%. However, these pathogens were also found in similar frequencies in children without diarrhoea.


A number of pathogens are commonly associated with persistent diarrhoea in children, but in children without diarrhoea the pathogens are found with similar frequencies. New research with carefully selected controls and standardised laboratory investigations across countries will help map causes and help explore effective options for presumptive treatment.