Researchers test probiotic as treatment for stomach flu
June 4, 2013
CALGARY – Children with stomach flu who arrive at the Alberta Children’s Hospital emergency department will soon have the option of participating in a national research study examining the effectiveness of a probiotic.
The multi-centre study is the largest of its kind in North America and will test nearly 900 children ranging in age from three months to four years.
Each year, more than 240,000 children visit Canadian emergency departments with fever, vomiting and diarrhea – telltale symptoms of gastroenteritis, or what’s more commonly referred to as the stomach flu. In Calgary, about 3,000 kids visit the Alberta Children’s Hospital emergency department each year with this combination of symptoms.
“Right now, there is little doctors can do for children with gastroenteritis, except to try to minimize the symptoms while the body fights off the infection,” says Dr. Stephen Freedman, the principal investigator of the study and a member of the Alberta Health Services-University of Calgary Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health.
“The theory is that a probiotic agent may have the potential to calm the immune system, allowing it to focus on the infection – with minimal adverse effects to the child.”
Probiotic is the term given for any live bacterial agent thought to have a beneficial effect. There are many commercially available probiotics that purport to treat a variety of conditions; some are marketed as healthy ingredients in foods such as yogurt.
Dr. Freedman’s study will look at the effectiveness of a specific probiotic called Lacidofil, which is a combination of two live bacteria strains that have shown promise as a treatment for gastroenteritis in both laboratory models and clinical trials.
Most cases of diarrhea in children are caused by a variety of viral infections that alter the secretion, absorption and movement of liquids in the intestines. Preliminary work with Lacidofil has shown that it reduces cell damage, prevents the viruses from binding to and invading the cells, and modulates the body’s immune response.
The study, expected to begin this fall and run for three years, follows a pilot project in Toronto and Calgary, in which more than 125 children were enrolled, about half from Calgary.
Children enrolled in the new study will be administered either 10 doses of Lacidofil, or a placebo, and then monitored for two weeks to measure a comprehensive list of outcomes, including symptom frequency and intensity.
“The goal of the study is to see if the child’s life is made better, especially during the first week after the emergency room visit,” Dr. Freedman says. “We hope that we will find conclusive evidence that the probiotic shortens the length of the illness and gets kids back in daycare or school, and parents back to work.”
Mom Jaime Smith knows full well the toll that stomach flu can take. Her 18-month-old son Rylen became ill earlier this spring and spent several days with bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. When it went on longer than seemed normal, Smith took Rylen to the emergency department at Alberta Children’s Hospital, where he was given fluids intravenously to rehydrate him. Smith also enrolled Rylen in the probiotics pilot study.
“I figured if having him in the study could help someone else down the road, then why not? It’s hard to watch kids suffer like that,” she says.
Although parents aren’t told whether their child receives the probiotic or a placebo, Smith says her son improved soon after the hospital visit.
Other sites participating in the study include the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, CHU Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital Centre in Montreal, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
The study is supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The manufacturer of Lacidofil, Institut Rosell Lallemand, is providing in-kind support by supplying the probiotic for testing.
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 3.8 million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.
The Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health (ACHRI) is a multi-disciplinary Partnership Institute of the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation – the membership of which encompasses the Faculties of Arts, Education, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Nursing, Kinesiology, Science and Social Work. http://research4kids.ucalgary.ca/
The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine is a national leader in health research with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research, education and delivery. The Faculty of Medicine trains the next generation of health practitioners and moves new treatments and diagnostic techniques from the laboratory bench to the hospital bedside, improving patient care. For more information, visit medicine.ucalgary.ca or follow them on twitter.com.
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