Volume 61, Issue 5
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645


To determine potential, long-term deficits associated with early childhood diarrhea and parasitic infections, we studied the physical fitness (by the Harvard Step Test) and cognitive function (by standardized tests noted below) of 26 children who had complete surveillance for diarrhea in their first 2 years of life and who had continued surveillance until 6-9 years of age in a poor urban community (favela) in Fortaleza in northeast Brazil. Early childhood diarrhea at 0-2 years of age correlated with reduced fitness by the Harvard Step Test at 6-9 years of age (P = 0.03) even after controlling for anthropometric and muscle area effects, anemia, intestinal helminths, Giardia infections, respiratory illnesses, and socioeconomic variables. Early childhood cryptosporidial infections (6 with diarrhea and 3 without diarrhea) were also associated with reduced fitness at 6-9 year of age, even when controlling for current nutritional status. Early diarrhea did not correlate with activity scores (P = 0.697), and early diarrhea remained significantly correlated with fitness scores (P = 0.035) after controlling for activity scores. Early diarrhea burdens also correlated in pilot studies with impaired cognitive function using a McCarthy Draw-A-Design (P = 0.01; P = 0.017 when controlling for early helminth infections), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children coding tasks (P = 0.031), and backward digit span tests (P = 0.045). These findings document for the first time a potentially substantial impact of early childhood diarrhea and cryptosporidial infections on subsequent functional status. If confirmed, these findings have major implications for calculations of global disability adjusted life years and for the importance and potential cost effectiveness of targeted interventions for early childhood diarrhea.


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