A prospective study over a one year period examined preadmission illness and its treatment, social characteristics and referral patterns, and inpatient illness progression in 1148 children admitted with a primary diagnosis of gastroenteritis. Admissions were predominantly from socially disadvantaged families: 712 (62%) from social classes IV and V. Approximately a quarter were referred with minimal symptoms, only 12 (1%) with moderate to severe dehydration, and eight (less than 1%) with hypernatraemia. One hundred and ninety two of 1101 (17%) had not seen their general practitioner during the acute illness. One third had received no treatment and one third inappropriate antibiotics, antidiarrhoeals, antiemetics, or changes of milk. Gastroenteritis is a less severe illness than formerly but remains a significant cause of paediatric morbidity. Suboptimal treatment is common. Improved local district hospital and community based resources are needed.
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