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Enteric Diseases

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Introduction and Goals


Bacterial and viral infections of the gastrointestinal tract account for a greatly underappreciated burden of morbidity and mortality domestically and overseas. The enteric pathogens cause disease symptoms ranging from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening systemic infections and severe dehydrating diarrhea. In addition to the acute risks of disease, long-term complications of enteric diseases include malnutrition, malabsorption of vital drugs, and immunological complications.

In the United States, diarrhea is the second most common infectious illness, accounting for one out of every six (16 percent) of diagnoses. Data compiled by the World Health Organization indicate that diarrheal diseases account for 15 to 34 percent of all deaths in certain countries. Conservative estimates place the death toll at 4 million to 6 million per year, with most of these occurring in children of preschool age, the elderly, and the immunocompromised, all of whom are particularly vulnerable. In developing countries particularly, acute diarrheal disease is also associated with significant delays in physical and intellectual development. Travelers, relief workers, and the U.S. military are at greatly heightened risk of incapacitating illness. In addition to naturally acquired infection, the potential for food- and waterborne pathogens to be used as weapons for mass poisoning has been recognized by their inclusion in the list of NIAID Category B priority pathogens.

To combat this tremendous disease burden, NIAID supports active research aimed at better understanding the pathogenic mechanisms employed by these organisms, more comprehensive and accurate surveillance, and better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat these diseases.

View the list of NIAID Category B priority pathogens.


NIAID research plans and priorities against enteric infections include:

  • Develop improved safe and efficacious vaccines and treatments for bacterial and viral enteric infections
  • Expand vaccine testing into international arenas where disease burden and consequent benefit to the public health may be greater
  • Understand fully the natural history, pathogenesis, and host responses to infection by enteric pathogens
  • Develop high-performance methods and reagents capable of diagnosing currently unattributed enteric infections
  • Look for an infectious etiology of enteric diseases with no known cause
  • Characterize and understand the role of the normal intestinal flora in disease and disease prevention
  • Promote interagency collaborations, both national and international

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Last Updated October 20, 2010