Burn Patients Experience Striking Changes In Gut Bacteria

Scientists from the Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division have discovered that people who suffered from severe burns experienced dramatic alterations in the level of bacteria residing within the gastrointestinal (GIT) tract. The findings, published in PLOS ONE, report a drastic increase in the amount of Enterobacteriaceae (a significantly harmful family of bacteria including E.coli and Salmonella), and decrease in the level of beneficial bacteria.

Conducting The Study

Healthy individuals have more than 100 trillion bacteria residing within their gut, collectively known as the microbiome. They form a symbiotic relationship within the GIT tract and have numerous health-related benefits. There is a critical balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria species which, if disrupted, causes a state of ‘dysbiosis’. The latter has been associated with various conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Choudhry, along with few of his colleagues, examined the fecal samples of four patients that had suffered severe burns and were being treated at the Burn Center of Loyola University Medical Center. The samples were collected for 5 to 17 days following the injuries. Their microbiomes were compared with those of a control group (eight patients who had suffered from minor burns).

What The Findings Revealed

For the severely burnt, the amount of Enterobacteriaceae was an average of 31.9 percent of the total gut microbiome. On the other hand, for those who had suffered minor burns, the amounts of these harmful bacteria were only 0.5 percent of the microbiome.

Extreme traumatic injuries initiate a vicious cycle, suggests Richard Kennedy, PhD, a co-author of the study. The immune system starts an inflammatory response, causing an imbalance in gut bacteria. The latter further boosts the inflammatory response and triggers a more enhanced imbalance within the microbiome.

Dr. Choudhry added that these imbalances could cause sepsis and similar complications which causes death of 75 percent of severely burn patients. Microbiome imbalances could compromise gut wall integrity, facilitating the leakage of harmful bacteria into the bloodstream further investigations into this hypothesis is being evaluated.


Researchers claim that in order to rectify the imbalance, burn victims could be treated using probiotics (live beneficial bacteria). Choudhry stated, that further `extensive research into this treatment option would be required to assess its competence in restoring microbiome composition and reducing the occurrence of sepsis and infections.

Moreover, the findings might also be applicable to patients suffering from other traumatic injuries, such as brain trauma, suggested senior author Mashkoor Choudhry.

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