We present bacteriological and virological findings together with salient clinical features from a prospective study of 447 children aged under 2 years admitted to hospital with infectious gastroenteritis. Putative pathogenic micro-organisms were identified in the stools of 75% of these children. Eight identifiably distinct groups of viruses, found on electron microscopy and tissue culture were present in 67% of patients--rotavirus was detected most frequently. Pathogenic bacteria (salmonellas, shigellas, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter jejuni--but excluding Clostridium difficile) were found in 16% only. Altogether 4 X 9% of 390 patients had gastroenteritis associated with Cl difficile toxin. The mean duration of diarrhoea was shortest in patients with identifiable virus, with rotavirus having a mean of 5 X 01 days, and was longest in patients with pathogenic bacteria in the stools (11 X 14 days). The finding of more than one type of virus did not seem to be associated with a significantly increased duration of diarrhoea. There are few clinical features which can be associated specifically with any particular micro-organism or groups of these. Multiple organism isolation was common, but the severity of the illness in those patients with at least two types of organism was not greater. Certain viruses, including the norwalk-like virus, known to be associated with outbreaks of gastroenteritis were found as frequently in a group of patients who did not have diarrhoea studied for comparison. Virus was still detectable in the stools of up to 40% of asymptomatic children on the day of discharge.
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