Gut Virome Changes in Infants Could Signal Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a serious and potentially fatal intestinal disease which most often affects preterm infants. For many years, researchers have hypothesized that gut health – and in particular, the gut microbiome – could play a role in this condition. However, there has been little insight into determining exactly how changes in the gut influence necrotizing enterocolitis development. Medical Xpress discusses recent research which centered around the impact of microbial changes on this development. Ultimately, researchers determined that specific viral changes occur before necrotizing enterocolitis occurs. This presents a potential biomarker to aid in earlier identification and treatment.

If you’d like to read the full study findings, you may do so in Nature Microbiology

What Evaluating the Gut Virome Shares

The gut microbiome consists of up to 100 billion microbes (fungi, viruses, bacteria) within your gut. If you’re specifically considering the viruses in your gut, it’s known as the gut virome. The gut microbiome plays a role in immunity, appetite, and overall health. Therefore, if the microbiome is unbalanced, it can result in a number of health issues. 

In this particular study, researchers sought to understand the influence of the gut virome on necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants (born before 37 weeks). Preterm infants are already at a heightened risk of health problems, particularly if they are born before 32 weeks of gestation. 

To begin, researchers sourced 138 stool samples from 23 preterm infants within the 11 weeks following birth. 61% of infants (14 infants) did not develop necrotizing enterocolitis, while the remaining 39% (9 infants) did develop this condition. 

After collecting the samples, researchers sequenced them using metagenomics. The research team found that infants who developed this condition saw reduced viral composition, or reduced viral β-diversity. Typically, this reduction was observed within the ten days prior to this condition manifesting. Therefore, if researchers were able to observe and identify this change, it could aid as a biomarker for earlier detection and treatment. Hopefully, this will lead to more effective and beneficial therapeutic options in the future.

About Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Unfortunately, the mortality rate associated with necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious condition characterized by intestinal inflammation, sits between 22-38%. When the intestines become increasingly inflamed, it can cause holes, allowing intestinal bacteria to enter and infect the abdomen. Necrotizing enterocolitis affects up to 10% of preterm infants and occurs in 1 of every 2,000-4,000 live births. Symptoms typically manifest within two weeks following birth. These include:

  • Bloated or distended stomach
  • Fever
  • Malaise or lack of energy
  • Redness or abnormal coloring of the stomach
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Poor feeding
  • Apnea (temporary breathing interruption)

There are treatments available for this condition. These include antibiotics, IV feeding, breathing support, or even surgery. 

Learn more about necrotizing enterocolitis.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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