Viral agents of gastroenteritis. Public health importance and outbreak management

MMWR Recomm Rep. 1990 Apr 27;39(RR-5):1-24.


Each year, infectious gastroenteritis causes greater than 210,000 children in the United States to be hospitalized and 4-10 million children to die worldwide. Since the mid-1970s, knowledge has increased dramatically concerning the viral agents that are responsible for much of this public health burden. Rotavirus, the most common cause of diarrhea among children, infects virtually every child in the United States by the age of 4 years and causes potentially lethal dehydration in 0.75% of children less than 2 years of age. Other recently identified pathogens include the enteric adenoviruses, calicivirus, astrovirus, and the Norwalk family of agents. Conclusive diagnosis of these viruses requires electron microscopic examination of stool specimens, a laboratory technique that is available only at a few large centers, including CDC. Stool samples from an outbreak that are submitted to CDC for detection of viral pathology should be collected in bulk from 10 ill persons during their first 48 hours of illness, while feces are still liquid, and should be stored at 4 C (not frozen). Acute- and convalescent-phase serum samples should be collected from the same persons, plus from an equal number of controls, during the first week of illness and 3 weeks thereafter. Control measures for outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis should focus on the removal of an ongoing common source of infection (e.g., an ill food handler or the contamination of a water supply) and on the interruption of person-to-person transmission that can perpetuate an outbreak in a population after the common source has been removed. Because improvements in environmental hygiene may not be accompanied by reductions of endemic diarrhea caused by viruses, immunization may play an important role in future control; vaccine trials for rotavirus are in progress. In anticipation of vaccine development and use, CDC recently began national surveillance for the viral agents of gastroenteritis. Health-care facilities involved in the detection of rotavirus or the other viral agents of diarrhea can participate.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adenovirus Infections, Human / diagnosis
  • Adenovirus Infections, Human / drug therapy
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Antigens, Viral / analysis
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Caliciviridae
  • Child
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Gastroenteritis / diagnosis
  • Gastroenteritis / drug therapy*
  • Gastroenteritis / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mamastrovirus
  • Norwalk virus
  • Picornaviridae Infections / diagnosis
  • Picornaviridae Infections / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / therapy
  • Public Health
  • United States
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis
  • Virus Diseases / drug therapy


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antigens, Viral
  • Antiviral Agents