Indian Journal of Community Medicine

: 2007  |  Volume : 32  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 27--31

Enteric pathogens in north Indian patients with diarrhoea

S Das, R Saha, S Singhal 
 Deptt. of Microbiology, University College of Medical Sciences & Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, Shahdara, Delhi-110095, India

Correspondence Address:
S Das
Deptt. of Microbiology, University College of Medical Sciences & Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, Shahdara, Delhi-110095


Background : Diarrhoeal diseases are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children in developing countries requiring hospitalisation. AIDS and indiscriminate use of antibiotics have further worsen the condition. Objectives : To assess the etiological agents causing diarrhea with the aim to limit indiscriminate use of antimicrobial agents. Methods : A cross-sectional study was done involving children and adults (of all age groups) suffering from gastrointestinal infection attending the OPD or admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital. The study was analysed using chi-square test and crosstab chi-square test. Results : Of the 2534 stool samples processed, 23.2% were positive for pathogens. 4.6% were positive for Shigella species, 2.37% for Salmonella species and 1.5% for Escherichia coli (E.coli). Vibrio cholerae OI El Tor serotype Ogawa (82.55%) was more common than serotype Inaba (19.5%). Vibrio cholerae strains were generally resistant to all drugs except Ciprofloxacin, Gentamicin, and Cefotaxime. Multidrug resistant Shigella and Salmonella species was also an important observation made. However parasitic and viral (rota virus) associated diarrhea did not exceed the bacterial causes. Conclusions : New pathogens have emerged as causative organisms of diarrhoa. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead to drug resistance necessitating monitoring of drug susceptibility and formulation of drug policy in hospitals.

How to cite this article:
Das S, Saha R, Singhal S. Enteric pathogens in north Indian patients with diarrhoea.Indian J Community Med 2007;32:27-31

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Das S, Saha R, Singhal S. Enteric pathogens in north Indian patients with diarrhoea. Indian J Community Med [serial online] 2007 [cited 2022 Aug 8 ];32:27-31
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Diarrheal diseases are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in children in developing countries. More than 4 million children under 1 year of age die each year of infectious diarrhea, worldwide [1] . In India, one third of the total pediatric admissions in hospitals are due to diarrheal diseases and 17% of all deaths in indoor pediatric patients are diarrhea related [2] . Bacterial causes of childhood diarrhea always exceed the parasitic and fungal pathogens. With escalating number of patients with HIV seropositivity and AIDS each year, wide range of enteric pathogens has found an opportunity to cause diarrheal infections. In India, Cryptosporidia, Cyclospora and Microsporidia are the newer coccidian parasites responsible for diarrhea, especially in children less than two years of age and among HIV seropositive / AIDS patients. Gastroenteritis is recognized as a serious public health problem in India. Though fluid and electrolyte replacement is the treatment of choice for acute diarrhea, however, antibacterial agents are often administered for treatment of Salmonella gastroenteritis and Shigellosis in children or even diarrhea due to E. coli or Vibrio cholerae. Indiscriminate use of these agents have resulted in development of multidrug resistant organisms. In the present paper, we report a change in the prevalence of diarrhea causing agents in patients of different age groups and the impact of empirical use of antibiotics for agents other than bacteria. Such data exists from different parts of our country, but awareness is necessary in the change in the etiology of drug resistance, thereby improving the management of such cases. Keeping this in mind, we conducted a cross-sectional study of patients attending a tertiary care hospital in east Delhi during 2002-2004.

 Material and Methods

This study was carried out from 2002-2004 from patients attending the out patients department or admitted in the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital with gastroenteritis. 2534 stool specimen (rectal swabs and fecal matter) were collected and processed for identification for various pathogens.

Routine stool microscopy of saline and iodine preparations was examined for intestinal parasites following the standard formol ether method of concentration. Smears stained with modified acid fast stain from each specimen were examined for Cryptosporidia. A battery of culture media - alkaline peptone water , selenite F broth, Mac Conkey agar, bile salt agar (BSA), xylose lysine deoxycholate (XLD), thiosulphate citrate bile sucrose(TCBS) were used for isolation of bacterial pathogens [3] . Bacteriological analysis was done by standard laboratory techniques. Salmonella, Shigella and V cholerae isolates were serotyped by slide agglutination test using specific antisera (Difco, USA and National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases-NICED, Kolkata).

Pathogenic E.coli infections were detected by using a reverse passive latex agglutination test kit (VET RPLA, Oxoid toxin detection kit) for Entero Toxigenic E.coli (ETEC) strains and serotyped with specific antisera (Central Research Institute­CRI, Kasauli) from pure isolates of E.coli.

Phage typing of V.cholerae isolates was done by Basu and Mukherjee method at the Phage typing center, NICED, Kolkata [4],[5] .

The antimicrobial susceptibility testing was performed by using the Kirby Bauer disc diffusion method for the following antimicrobial agents: Cotrimoxazole (25ug), Cefotaxime (30mg), Ciprofloxacin (5mg), Furazolidone (50mg), Nalidixic Acid (30mg), Tetracycline (30mg), Gentamicin (10mg) and Chloramphenicol (30mg) [6] and the current NCCLS (National Committee for clinical laboratory standards) [7] guidelines were followed for interpretation of the results. E.coli ATCC 25922 was used as the control strain.

Amongst the viral agents causing diarrhea, rotavirus was identified from stool samples with a commercially available ELISA kit- (IDEIA Rotavirus, Dako, UK) detecting group specific VP6 antigen for Rotavirus.


An episode of acute diarrhea was defined as the passing of at least four loose stools in a 24 hours period for infants 4weeks respectively [8] . Dysentery was defined as a diarrhea lasting longer than 10 days with significant fever or systemic complaints and has inflammatory cells or blood in the stool [9] .

Of 2534 fecal specimens, 588 (23.2%) samples yielded one or more pathogens. Single and mixed infection was observed in 344(13.6%) and 244(9.6%) respectively. Of these positive cases, 285 (48.5%) were males and 303 (51.5%) were female patients. Children affected (82%) were more than adults (18%) [Table 1]. The age wise association of various enteric pathogens was found to be statistically significant (p=0.05). The drug resistance pattern of these organisms as in [Table 4] showed V.cholerae isolates with 100% sensitivity to Ciprofloxacin, Gentamicin and Cefotaxime, and increasing resistance to Furazolidone and Nalidixic acid. However 85% of the isolates were resistant to Cotrimoxazole and only 10% to Tetracycline.

All the strains of Shigella isolated were highly susceptible to Norfloxacin, Gentamicin and Cefotaxime, but completely resistant to Furazolidone, Cotrimoxazole and Chloramphenicol. However the resistance pattern to Nalidixic Acid was seen to increase during the successive years of our study period.

All the Salmonella isolated (2.4%, both Typhi and non typhoidal) showed multidrug resistance. Most isolates were resistant to Chloramphenicol and Cotrimoxazole with a variable resistance pattern observed for Gentamicin and Cefotaxime. However all were sensitive to Ciprofloxacin.

A large percentage of severe watery diarrheas are caused by Rotavirus occurring mostly in children less than 5 years of age [10] . In our study a total of 45/588 (7.7%) cases of diarrhea were detected positive for Rotavirus antigen (all Group A) and all these cases were within the first two years of life. However no particular seasonal pattern of Rotavirus associated diarrhea was observed.

Faecal samples submitted for routine parasitological examination for the presence of ova and cyst is shown in [Table 3]. Cryptosporidium oocysts were recovered in 8(1.4%) cases detected by modified Ziehl Neelsen technique. Of these, 3 patients were HIV seropositive, admitted with chronic diarrhea and 5 were identified in children of six months to two years of age who presented with persistent diarrhea.


Our hospital in east Delhi caters to a population of 1.5 million, from in and around Trans Yamuna area and most of the people fall in the low and middle socio economic status.

The findings of the present study indicate that both well recognized established as well as newly recognized agents are important causes of diarrhea in the developing countries. In agreement with other reports, amongst the nonepidemic diarrheal illness, Shigella and non-typhoidal Salmonella gastroenteritis are still the well-recognized etiological agents both in children as well as in adults [11] . All the Salmonella isolates showed multidrug resistance, but were sensitive to Ciprofloxacin unlike studies from other parts of the country, where indiscriminate use of the drug since its introduction in the eighties has led to an increase in resistance up to 18% [12] . The emergence of the multidrug resistant strains and its variation over the years as analyzed by our data is a matter of concern and should be checked by limiting the use of fluroquinolones to selected cases rather than using it indiscriminately in all patients of diarrhea [13] .

Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Typhi were the commonest serotypes associated with diarrhea with acute presentations of nausea and vomiting especially in children.

Shigellosis was also observed to be more among children and the peak being during the monsoons. It was observed that all Shigella isolated in this region in the period between 2002-2004 had increasing resistance to Nalidixic Acid; however continued to be susceptible to Ciprofloxacin and Cefotaxime. Appropriate antibiotic therapy for Shigellosis in children having symptoms of dysentery reduces the mortality and also shortens the duration of symptoms. The treatment of Shigellosis with Nalidixic Acid to which it has developed resistance would be a matter of concern for physicians as this drug (a 1st generation quinolone) is highly approved for use in children [14] . In such situation, Ciprofloxacin or Norfloxacin showing 100% sensitivity in the present study should be used as a reserve drug for treatment of patients with severe Shigellosis or due to multi drug resistant strains.

The yearly and seasonal outbreak of Cholera in our region is a reminder of the endemicity of this illness and its emergence as an important pathogen of acute watery diarrhea in our country. V.cholerae isolates with predominance of El tor Ogawa were generally susceptible to Ciprofloxacin, Gentamicin and Cefotaxime but resistant to Nalidixic Acid, Furazolidone, Cotrimoxazole, Tetracycline and Chloramphenicol. This is in agreement with studies from Chandigarh and Calcutta [11],[15] . V.cholerae El Tor inaba (56/330) isolated for the first time in our hospital showed similar drug resistant pattern as in V.cholerae El Tor ogawa, however few strains were resistant to Ciprofloxacin with an MIC of 8-15mg/ml comparable to studies from Calcutta [16] . Such serotype conversion of ogawa to inaba occurs more frequently than vice versa [17] . Due to lack of efficacy of cross protective antibody, the potential pathogenicity of such strains in the affected population gets enhanced.

ETEC is an important cause of acute watery diarrhea in adults and children in developing countries, spreading mostly by contaminated water and food. Regional differences in the prevalence of different categories of diarrheagenic E coli is very well documented [18] . The prevalent category of E coli leading to childhood diarrhea in our population was ETEC serotype O147 (10.5%) and E coli serotype O20 (58%). Hence E.coli as a cause of diarrhea cannot be ignored and further screening of other diarrhoegenic E.coli is needed in this area.

Besides the well-known causes of enteric infections and diarrhoeal diseases, parasites and viruses are important etiological agents, which are very often overlooked. These agents have to be correctly diagnosed by proper laboratory investigation; otherwise underestimation and routine treatment of such cases with empirical antibiotics will unnecessarily increase the burden of drug resistance. Parasitic yield from examination of ova and cyst showed E. hystolytica (4.8%), G. intestinalis (6.3%), hookworm (3.6%) and roundworm (4.3%) as the major agents of gastrointestinal disturbance especially seen in school age children. In chronic form, there can be recurrent attacks, with intervening periods of milder intestinal problems and thereby many a times such conditions remain ignored and unmanaged. Hookworm infections reach a considerable intensity in children and remain high throughout adulthood. Cryptosporidia were not found in large numbers and correlates with the findings from other workers as an infrequent pathogen in India [19] , accounting for 1.4% of cases of diarrhea. It is essential to highlight the importance of testing intestinal parasites (especially coccidian parasites) in HIV seropositive patients and emphasize the necessity of increasing awareness among clinicians regarding the occurrence of these agents in such population.

The temporal and geographical distributions of human rotavirus serotypes having a distinct seasonal pattern are well known [20] . In our study 7.7% children had Rotavirus associated diarrhea lasting for more than 14 days duration. The burden of Rotavirus diarrhea therefore cannot be ignored as an important cause of childhood morbidity.

In conclusion, the present study documents, the overall role of agents as causes of diarrhea and gastrointestinal disturbances in this part of Delhi and indicate that the indiscriminate use of potent antibiotics can lead to acquisition of resistance to important therapeutic agents. An improvement in the sanitation and hygiene is also essential in decreasing the morbidity due to enteric pathogens. A periodic laboratory monitoring of drug susceptibility and a formulation of antibiotic policy in the hospital should become mandatory to prevent further difficulty and apprehension in treating diarrheal illness. Additional study to define the relative frequency of specific pathogens during each season should be conducted to generate further valuable data.


The authors are grateful to the Director, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata for Phage Typing of Vibrio cholerae strains and Central Research Institute, Kasauli for serotyping E.coli strains.


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