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What is the qualitative evidence concerning the risks, diagnosis, management and consequences of gastrointestinal infections in the community in the United Kingdom? A systematic review and meta-ethnography

Suzanne Rotheram, Jessie Cooper, Sara Ronzi, Benjamin Barr and Margaret Whitehead

PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 1, 1-22

Abstract: Background: Gastrointestinal (GI) infections cause a significant public health burden worldwide and in the UK with evidence pointing to socio-economic inequalities, particularly among children. Qualitative studies can help us understand why inequalities occur and contribute to developing more effective interventions. This study had two aims: 1. Conduct a systematic review to determine the extent and nature of UK qualitative evidence on gastrointestinal infections; 2. Use meta-ethnography to examine the influences of the differing social contexts in which people live. Methods: MEDLINE, Scopus, Web of science, CINAHL and JSTOR were searched for UK qualitative studies engaging with the risk, diagnosis, management or consequences of gastrointestinal infections from 1980 to July 2019. Five reviewers were involved in applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, extracting and synthesising data (PROSPERO CRD 42017055157). Results: Searches identified 4080 studies, 18 met the inclusion criteria. The majority (n = 16) contained data relating to the risk of gastrointestinal infection and these made up the main synthesis. The tenets of meta-ethnography were used to glean new understandings of the role of social and environmental contexts in shaping the risk of gastrointestinal infection, specifically with respect to foodborne GI illness. Three main explanations concerning risk emerged from the data: explanations of risk in the community were underpinned by understandings of ‘bugs’, dirt and where food comes from; risks were negotiated in households alongside diverse processes of decision making around food; and resources available to households shaped food practices. Conclusion: This systematic review highlights the scarcity of UK qualitative evidence examining gastrointestinal infections. Apart from risk, questions around diagnosis, management and consequences of illness were largely untouched. No studies investigated patterning by socio-economic status. Nevertheless, the meta-ethnography yielded wider contextual theories and explanations as to why people might not follow food hygiene guidance, giving pointers to the types of qualitative enquiry needed to develop more effective interventions.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227630

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