Background: We used information from the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) about approximately 1 million children enrolled in four health maintenance organizations to assess the morbidity from diarrhea and estimate the disease burden of rotavirus.
Methods: We examined trends of diarrhea-associated hospitalizations and emergency room (ER) visits among VSD children ages 1 month through 4 years during October, 1992, through September, 1994 (two rotavirus seasons) and estimated the morbidity from rotavirus on the basis of characteristic patterns of age and seasonality.
Results: Overall diarrhea was associated with 6.3% of hospitalizations and 4% of ER visits. During a child's first 5 years of life, we estimated that 1 in 57 was hospitalized and 1 in 21 required an ER visit because of diarrhea. Each year the number of diarrhea-associated hospitalizations and ER visits was greatest in winter among children ages 4 to 23 months and peaked in November in California and during February in Oregon and Washington. The winter seasonality of diarrhea-associated hospitalizations reflected the trends for diarrhea of presumed noninfectious and viral etiologies, which together accounted for most (92.9%) hospitalizations.
Conclusions: Diarrhea is an important cause of morbidity among VSD children. The epidemiologic patterns of diarrhea-associated hospitalizations and ER visits resembled those reported previously for rotavirus diarrhea, suggesting that rotavirus may be a major contributor to the overall morbidity from diarrhea. Enhanced surveillance by screening for rotavirus in a sample of children with diarrhea will permit a more accurate assessment of the disease burden of this pathogen and the cost effectiveness of a rotavirus immunization program.