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 Could something as simple as giving a probiotic and a sugar for 7 days prevent sepsis in babies? Sepsis is a life-threatening infection that is a HUGE problem in developing countries such as India. It is a major cause of death in babies throughout the world, even with antibiotic treatment. So this new research (done in India) finding that giving newborn babies a probiotic plus the sugar fructooligosaccharide (FOS) for only one week had the result of lowering the incidence of sepsis and death by 40%, and also infections is huge news. A game changer.

The researchers found that the strain given to the babies was very important. They first tried Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus sporogenes, but didn't have success. But a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum was amazingly effective. They gave it together with a sugar - fructooligosaccharide (FOS) - which together worked as a synbiotic. Synbiotics are combinations of probiotics with an FOS supplement that promotes growth and colonization of the beneficial bacteria. FOS (which is naturally found in breast milk and such plants as onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, banana, artichoke, agave, leeks, wheat, barley), is food for the probiotic bacteria.

It must be pointed out that other studies have tried other probiotics in the prevention of sepsis, but have not been successful. Probiotics that did not work work in other studies were Streptococcus thermophilus, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium breve. However, they did not also use prebiotic supplements (the FOS) - just the probiotic alone - and studied premature or low birth weight babies (while this study focused on healthy babies of approximately normal weight.) This is why research now needs to be done looking at other groups of babies. From Medical Xpress:

Study shows probiotics can prevent sepsis in infants

A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health has determined that a special mixture of good bacteria in the body reduced the incidence of sepsis in infants in India by 40 percent at a cost of only $1 per infant...... The special mixture included a probiotic called Lactobacillus plantarum ATCC-202195 combined with fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), an oral synbiotic preparation developed by Dr. Panigrahi.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Synbiotics are combinations of probiotics with an FOS supplement that promotes growth and sustains colonization of the probiotic strain. FOS, naturally found in breast milk and such plants as onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, banana, artichoke and others, is food for the probiotic bacteria.

Sepsis is a severe complication of bacterial infection that results in around one million infant deaths worldwide each year, mostly in developing countries. It occurs when the immune system stops fighting germs and begins to turn on itself and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. It is estimated that 40 percent of patients with severe sepsis in developing countries do not survive.

The team enrolled more than 4,500 newborns from 149 villages in the Indian province of Odisha and followed them for their first 60 days, the most critical period when they get sick and die. During their first days of life, the newborns were administered the oral preparation for seven days. Results of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that sepsis and deaths in the first two months of infancy were reduced by 40 percent, more than twice the anticipated reduction of 20 percent. The synbiotic treatment also lowered respiratory tract infections. The effectiveness demonstrated in Dr. Panigrahi's study was so successful the study was halted early. 

An interesting article about this research from The Atlantic: At Last, a Big, Successful Trial of Probiotics

Image result for pills wikipedia Huh?...A recent study found that short-term use (less than 30 days) of commonly prescribed corticosteroid medications are linked to some nasty side-effects: an increase in rates of sepsis,  venous thromboembolism, and fractures. The most common reasons for the prescriptions were for upper respiratory tract infections, spinal conditions, bronchitis, and allergies. The study looked at 1.5 milliion patients, and found that the most common prescriptions written for oral corticosteroids was a six day methylprednisolone “dosepak” (about 47% of prescriptions). Note that while this was an "observational" study (so doesn't prove corticosteroid medication caused the effects), it still is concerning. One should always keep in mind that all medications have side effects, some bigger and some smaller.

Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that have been used to treat a variety of diseases for over seven decades. Long term use of corticosteroids is generally avoided because of the risks of serious complications (such as infection, venous thromboembolism, fractures, as well as chronic diseases). However, side-effects of short-term use have been unclear- which is why they are so frequently prescribed (about 1 in 5 Americans or 21% of the people in this study). This is why this study was needed. From Medical Xpress:

Common drugs, uncommon risks? Higher rate of serious problems after short-term steroid use

Millions of times a year, Americans get prescriptions for a week's worth of steroid pills, hoping to ease a backache or quell a nagging cough or allergy symptoms. But a new study suggests that they and their doctors might want to pay a bit more attention to the potential side effects of this medication. People taking the pills were more likely to break a bone, have a potentially dangerous blood clot or suffer a life-threatening bout of sepsis in the months after their treatment, compared with similar adults who didn't use corticosteroids, researchers from the University of Michigan report in a new paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Though only a small percentage of both groups went to the hospital for these serious health threats, the higher rates seen among people who took steroids for even a few days are cause for caution and even concern, the researchers say. The study used data from 1.5 million non-elderly American adults with private insurance. One in 5 of them filled a short-term prescription for oral corticosteroids such as prednisone sometime in the three-year study period. While the rates of the serious events were highest in the first 30 days after a prescription, they stayed elevated even three months later.

Using anonymous insurance claims data that IHPI purchased for use by U-M health care researchers, they found that half of the people who received oral steroids had gotten them for just six diagnoses, related to back pain, allergies or respiratory tract infections including bronchitis. Nearly half received a six-day prepackaged methylprednisolone "dosepak," which tapers the dose of steroids from highest to lowest. 

Dr. Waljee and his colleagues found higher rates of sepsis, venous thromboembolism (VTE) and fractures among short-term steroid users using multiple different statistical approaches to ensure their findings were as robust as possible....The consistent findings across the three approaches are important given the frequent use of these drugs and potential implications for patients. Waljee notes that the reason for this broad effect of steroids on complications may have its roots in how the drugs work: they mimic hormones produced by the body, to reduce inflammation but this can also induce changes that put patients at additional risk of serious events.

In the meantime, based on the new results, he advises patients and prescribers to use the smallest amount of corticosteroids possible based on the condition being treated. "If there are alternatives to steroids, we should be use those when possible," he says. "Steroids may work faster, but they aren't as risk-free as you might think." [Original study.]

Sad, but not surprising results. It highlights the damage repeated courses of antibiotics, and even illness, do to gut microbial communities. The researchers write that during a prolonged stay in ICU they found the emergence of "ultra-low-density communities" (only 1 to 4 bacteria species) in patients. From Science Daily:

Critically ill ICU patients lose almost all of their gut microbes and the ones left aren't good

Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that after a long stay in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) only a handful of pathogenic microbe species remain behind in patients' intestines. The team tested these remaining pathogens and discovered that some can become deadly when provoked by conditions that mimic the body's stress response to illness.

"Our hypothesis has always been that the gut microflora in these patients are very abnormal, and these could be the culprits that lead to sepsis," he says. The current study supports this idea. Alverdy and Olga Zaborina, a microbiologist, wanted to know what happens to the gut microbes of ICU patients, who receive repeated courses of multiple antibiotics to ward off infections.

They found that patients with stays longer than a month had only one to four types of microbes in their gut, as measured from fecal samples -- compared to about 40 different types found in healthy volunteers.

Four of these patients had gut microbe communities with just two members-- an infectious Candida yeast strain and a pathogenic bacterial strain, such as Enterococcus faecium or Staphylococcus aureus and other bugs associated with hospital-associated infections. Not surprisingly, almost all of the pathogenic bacteria in these patients were antibiotic resistant.