Jun 28, 2016


Erika Amaya
Digital Communications Officer, PATH


If diarrhea is public enemy number 2 (pardon our toilet humor!), vaccines are one of the superheroes in our fight against this fierce foe. In areas with limited access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, diarrhea can hold communities hostage with the heaviest burden falling on children who routinely ingest diarrheal disease pathogens in their environments. The four most common pathogens causing diarrhea are rotavirus, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), Shigella, and Cryptosporidium.

Repeated infections from these and other pathogens not only make kids chronically sick, but can create a hole in family budgets. On top of long-term economic consequences, chronic stomach bugs can result in long-term harm for the child, in the form of environmental enteropathy, a condition that prevents proper nutrient absorption, impairs immune system function, and can lead to malnutrition and stunting.  These effects are particularly damaging in children under age two whose bodies and brains are undergoing rapid growth and development. When children miss early opportunities for growth, the effects are irreversible. This diminished cognitive and physical development creates a ripple effect through society that hampers the financial health of communities, as well as emerging economies.

Prevention through vaccination is a critical part of the strategy to reduce the impact of diarrheal disease in low- and middle-income countries. Vaccines against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe, deadly diarrhea worldwide, are already making impressive gains in countries where they’ve become a part of routine immunization programs. Currently, no licensed vaccines for diarrhea resulting from the bacteria ETEC and Shigella or the parasite Cryptosporidium are available—but ETEC and Shigella vaccines are on the horizon.

This week, PATH is convening the inaugural Vaccines Against Shigella and ETEC (VASE) Conference in Washington, DC, focused on the two leading bacterial causes of moderate-to-severe diarrhea. Researchers from around the world will convene to share knowledge and join forces against these foes. We think scientists are superheroes, too, and recently they shared with us why the fight against bacterial diarrhea, particularly ETEC and Shigella, is so important.

Vaccines are an essential part of a strategic approach to reduce deaths from diarrhea and prevent the irreversible harm caused by chronic illness, but vaccines alone won’t give diarrhea the one-two punch we need to defeat diarrhea. It will take a proven integrated approach joining Vaccines with fellow superheroes clean Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), Nutrition, and ORS/Zinc to loosen diarrhea’s grip on low-resource communities around the world.

Photo gallery: Superheroes take on diarrhea at the VASE Conference

You can be a superhero too! Use #DefeatDD to tell us how you think an integrated approach made up of WASH, Nutrition, ORS/Zinc, and Vaccines could make a difference for children around the world. And stay tuned for the release of Superheroes versus Villains: The Diarrheal Disease Edition, our blockbuster feature highlighting the four primary causes of diarrhea and the ways an integrated approach can stop these pathogens in their tracks for good.