How an early infection can last long after it’s gone

Taking your child to the hospital for an infection is scary. But the risk might not end at discharge.

That’s what University of New South Wales researchers concluded after examining the link between early infection and child development.

Research summary

  • Severe childhood infection causing hospitalization is linked with greater risk of poor development at 5 years of age.
  • The number of times a child stays in the hospital for an infection matters. More hospital stays due to infection means greater risk for poor development at 5 years of age.

What is the research about?

Early childhood infection is associated with risk of certain health, behavioural, and cognitive problems in adulthood. Researchers studied the impact of infection on child development as a step between infection and problems in adulthood.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers linked hospital records with children’s Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) results. The group analyzed a final sample of 69,346 children with hospital records and valid AEDC data.

The study included children’s hospital records until the age of 4. The researchers used AEDC vulnerability as a measure of child development.

What did the researchers find?

  • Admission for non-infectious disease: 52,420
  • Any admission with infection: 16,926
    • One admission with infection: 11,993
    • Two or more admission with infection: 4,933

Children admitted to the hospital for an infection had a 16% increased risk of being vulnerable in any one domain in kindergarten. Multiple hospital admissions carried a greater risk. Children with one hospital admission had a 13% increased risk. Children admitted twice or more had a 23% increased risk.

What does the research mean?

Early life events can shape physical, social, cognitive, and emotional functioning in later years. This study suggests it’s important to prevent infectious disease in early childhood.