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Characterizing Behaviors Associated with Enteric Pathogen Exposure among Infants in Rural Ecuador through Structured Observations


The relative importance of environmental pathways that results in enteropathogen transmission may vary by context. However, measurement of contact events between individuals and the environment remains a challenge, especially for infants and young children who may use their mouth and hands to explore their environment. Using a mixed-method approach, we combined 1) semistructured observations to characterize key behaviors associated with enteric pathogen exposure and 2) structured observations using Livetrak, a customized software application, to quantify the frequency and duration of contacts events among infants in rural Ecuador. After developing and iteratively piloting the structured observation instrument, we loaded the final list of prompts onto a LiveTrak pallet to assess environmental exposures of 6-month infants (N = 19) enrolled in a prospective cohort study of diarrheal disease. Here we provide a detailed account of the lessons learned. For example, in our field site, 1) most mothers reported washing their hands after diaper changes (14/18, 77.8%); however only a third (4/11, 36.4%) were observed washing their hands; 2) the observers noted that animal ownership differed from observed animal exposure because animals owned by neighboring households were reported during the observation; and 3) using Livetrak, we found that infants frequently mouthed their hands (median = 1.9 episodes/hour, median duration: 1.6 min) and mouthed surroundings objects (1.8 episodes/hour, 1.9 min). Structured observations that track events in real time, can complement environmental sampling, quantitative survey data and qualitative interviews. Customizing these observations enabled us to quantify enteric exposures most relevant to our rural Ecuadorian context.

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