Abstract

Child stunting is associated with poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), partly due to the effect of infection on intestinal nutrient absorption. WASH interventions, however, show little effect on growth. A hypothesis is that bacterial contamination of hands and floors from domestic animals and their faeces, and subsequent ingestion via infant hand-to-mouth behaviours, may explain this. This formative study used microbial testing and survey and observational data from 20 households in Ethiopia to characterise principle bacterial transmission pathways to infants, considering WASH facilities and practices, infant behaviours and animal exposure. Microbial swabbing showed the contamination of hands and floor surfaces from thermotolerant coliform bacteria. Animal husbandry practices, such as keeping animals inside, contributed significantly (all p < 0.005). There was no evidence that latrine facilities mitigated contamination across infant (p = 0.76) or maternal (p = 0.86) hands or floor surfaces (p = 0.36). This small study contributes to the evidence that animal faeces are an important source of domestic bacterial contamination. The results imply that interventions aiming to reduce pathogen transmission to infants should think beyond improving WASH and also consider the need to separate infants and animals in the home. Intervention studies will be required to determine whether this reduces infant infection and improves linear growth.

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