Early childhood diarrhea is associated with diminished cognitive function 4 to 7 years later in children in a northeast Brazilian shantytown.

Mark D Niehaus Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Sean R Moore Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Peter D Patrick Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Lori L Derr Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Breyette Lorntz Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Aldo A Lima Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Richard L Guerrant Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

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Diarrhea is well recognized as a leading cause of childhood mortality and morbidity in developing countries; however, possible long-term cognitive deficits from heavy diarrhea burdens in early childhood remain poorly defined. To assess the potential long-term impact of early childhood diarrhea (in the first 2 years of life) on cognitive function in later childhood, we studied the cognitive function of a cohort of children in an urban Brazilian shantytown with a high incidence of early childhood diarrhea. Forty-six children (age range, 6-10 years) with complete diarrhea surveillance during their first 2 years of life were given a battery of five cognitive tests. Test of Non-Verbal Intelligence-III (TONI) scores were inversely correlated with early childhood diarrhea (P = .01), even when controlling for maternal education, duration of breast-feeding, and early childhood helminthiasis (Ascaris or Trichuris). Furthermore, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III) Coding Tasks and WISC-III Digit Span (reverse and total) scores were also significantly lower in the 17 children with a history of early childhood persistent diarrhea (PD; P < .05), even when controlling for helminths and maternal education. No correlations were seen between diarrhea rates and Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning subtests or WISC-III Mazes. This report (with larger numbers of participants and new tests) confirms and substantially extends previous pilot studies, showing that long-term cognitive deficits are associated with early childhood diarrhea. These findings have important implications for the importance of interventions that may reduce early childhood diarrheal illnesses or their consequences.

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