This study was performed to better understand and more precisely quantify the amount and burden of illness caused by acute diarrhoea in the United States today. A telephone-based population survey was conducted between 1 July, 1996, and 31 June, 1997, in sites of the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet). The overall prevalence of acute diarrhoea in the 4 weeks before interview was 11%, giving a rate of 1.4 episodes of diarrhoea per person per year. The rate of diarrhoeal illness defined as a diarrhoeal episode lasting longer than 1 day or which resulted in significant impairment of daily activities was 0.7 per person per year. It can be concluded that acute diarrhoea is common and represents a significant burden of illness in the United States. Our data on self-reported diarrhoea, when generalized to the entire nation, suggests 375 million episodes of acute diarrhoea each year in the United States. Many of these episodes are mild. However, our data also indicate that there are approximately 200 million episodes of diarrhoeal illness each year in the United States.