Background: Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe pediatric gastroenteritis worldwide. A vaccine may soon be licensed for use in the United States to prevent this disease. To characterize US geographic and temporal trends in rotavirus activity, we made contour maps showing the timing of peak rotavirus activity.
Methods: From July, 1991, through June, 1996, 79 laboratories participating in the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System reported on a weekly basis the number of stool specimens that tested positive for rotavirus. The peak weeks in rotavirus detections from each laboratory were mapped using kriging, a modeling technique originally developed for geostatistics.
Results: During the 5-year period 118,716 fecal specimens were examined, of which 27,616 (23%) were positive for rotavirus. Timing of rotavirus activity varied by geographic location in a characteristic pattern in which peak activity occurred first in the Southwest from October through December and last in the Northeast in April or May. The Northwest exhibited considerable year-to-year variability (range, December to May) in the timing of peak activity, whereas the temporal pattern in the remainder of the contiguous 48 states was relatively constant.
Conclusion: Kriging is a useful method for visualizing geographic and temporal trends in rotavirus activity in the United States. This analysis confirmed trends reported in previous years, and it also identified unexpected variability in the timing of peak rotavirus activity in the Northwest. The causes of the seasonal differences in rotavirus activity by region are unknown. Tracking of laboratory detections of rotavirus may provide an effective surveillance tool to assess the impact of a rotavirus vaccination campaign in the United States.