Human rotavirus (HRV) type 1 or 2, adenovirus, or non-cultivatable 27 nm virus-like particles were demonstrated by electron microscopy and/or rotavirus ELISA in fecal samples from 45.5% of 604 gastroenteritis inpatients, 25.0% of 200 gastroenteritis outpatients and 6.0% of 812 control subjects, all sampled at Children's Hospital National Medical Center. Washington, DC. Rotaviruses were the most common pathogens detected as 39% and 22% of gastroenteritis inpatients and outpatients, respectively, shed HRV. About three-fourths of the rotaviruses were type 2, which was prevalent during five successive epidemic years from January, 1974, through June, 1978. HRV type 1 was detected in the last four successive epidemic years and represented nearly half of the HRV infections observed among gastroenteritis inpatients during the year 1977--1978. Both rotavirus serotypes were detected most often in the month of January, when 71% of 123 gastroenteritis inpatients and 62% of 34 gastroenteritis outpatients shed one of these viruses. Uncultivatable adenoviruses were detected significantly more frequently in stools from patients with gastroenteritis (3.9%) than from control subjects (0.6%), suggesting that these viruses played a role in acute enteric disease. The frequency of detection of 27 nm particles was not significantly different in gastroenteritis and control patients. Numerically, HRV infection was detected most often in gastroenteritis inpatients who were 10 through 12 months of age. The group of gastroenteritis inpatients with the highest percentage of HRV infection was 13 through 15 months of age. The excess of type 2 HRV infection relative to type 1 infection was especially large in those aged 7 through 24 months. Lower socioeconomic status or greater crowding appeared to be associated with the occurrence of rotavirus infection earlier in life and earlier in the epidemic year.