Diarrhea and enteric illnesses

Nov 22, 2017


Two boys playfully throwing punches toward the camera

Did you know? Diarrheal disease is one type of enteric illness—the name for any disease caused by an intestinal infection. All enteric pathogens enter the body through the mouth, usually via contaminated food, water, or hands. Diarrheal diseases caused by rotavirus, Shigella, enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), and other pathogens are some of the most common enteric diseases. Other, non-diarrheal enteric diseases include polio, typhoid, and paratyphoid. Even though these enteric diseases do not always cause diarrhea, they are spread in the same way as diarrhea and, as such, share many of the same tools to address diarrheal disease.


Prevention for all enteric diseases includes vaccinesexclusive breastfeeding and nutrition, and improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). WASH improvements are key to preventing most types of enteric infections, as well as other childhood diseases such as pneumonia, because of the role that water and waste play in spreading the disease. Vaccines, a best buy in improving global child health, are available for several enteric pathogens, including rotavirus, cholera, and polio. Vaccines for other enteric pathogens, such as Shigella and ETEC are on the horizon. New and improved typhoid vaccines that can better target children, who need them most, could soon be available to countries. Additionally, efforts to improve breastfeeding and nutrition help all children develop stronger immune systems to better fight a wide variety of enteric and other childhood diseases.


Prevention is even more important when we factor in the potential long-term impacts on gut health. Environmental enteric dysfunction (EED), also called environmental enteropathy, is a disorder of the small intestine that can be acquired after multiple and repeated enteric infections, with or without diarrhea. EED compromises a child’s ability to absorb nutrients and build immunity in the long term. Researchers are conducting important research to uncover new insights about gut health and their implications for new treatments and approaches


Childhood diseases do not exist in siloes, so interventions shouldn’t, either. That’s why we support the integration of diarrheal disease control with efforts to combat other enteric and childhood diseases that have overlapping interventions.


For more information about efforts to combat other enteric diseases, please visit: