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Saturday, 22 January, 2000, 02:49 GMT
Baby killer disease 'explained'

baby Babies at threat from rotavirus disease

A disease responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of babies worldwide each year has been linked to nerves in the gut.

Rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, acts by stimulating nerves in the gut, according to a research team.

The findings could help scientists develop drugs to treat the infection. It also suggests that many intestinal bugs act in the same way.

Ove Lundgren and colleagues at Gothenburg University said in the journal Science that the nerve-numbing agent lidocaine halved the rate of diarrhoea in infected baby mice.

Other agents that interfere with nerve stimulation had partial effects in stopping symptoms of the disease.

Mr Lundgren said: "We have been doing this for 20 years, and we have shown this for cholera and E.coli. That implies you can treat all these acute diarrhoeas with the same drug."

Rotavirus is the main cause of stomach upset and diarrhoea in infants and young children and is blamed for 600,000 deaths worldwide each year, mainly in developing countries.

Heavily studied

Thought the disease has been heavily studied, it is still not fully understood why it disrupts a baby's intestines so severely.

Mr Lundgren added: "One hypothesis is that the rotavirus evokes intestinal fluid and electrolyte secretion by activation of the nervous system in the intestinal wall."

His team noted in their report that simple solutions such as giving sick babies a drink containing sugar and salts, to replace elements lost through diarrhoea, can save lives.

"Combining the oral glucose-salt solution with a drug that attenuates the intestinal secretion of fluid has the potential to enhance this effect," they wrote.

But Lundgren admitted it would be difficult to design a drug based on their findings.

In 1998 the Wyeth Lederle vaccines unit of American Home Products Corp developed a vaccine called RotaShield that protects against rotavirus, but it pulled it off the market in October after it was associated with intussusception, a type of bowel obstruction.

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See also:
23 Jul 99 |  Health
Hope for diarrhoea vaccine
16 Apr 99 |  Health
Stomach infections: The true picture
26 Nov 99 |  Health
Sugar relieves baby pain

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