Acute diarrheal illnesses in Baltimore children younger than 2 years of age attending an outpatient clinic were studied during a 12-month period. One in five acute care visits made to the clinic by children younger than 2 years was for diarrhea, and 5% of diarrhea cases required hospitalization. With the use of comprehensive methodology, a potential etiologic agent was identified in the stool of 105 (43%) of the 246 episodes of diarrhea in cases and in 43 (28%) of the 155 controls. Viral pathogens were found in 26% of episodes, and bacterial pathogens were found in 14%. Only rotavirus, enteric adenovirus and Salmonella were significantly associated with diarrhea. Cases were more likely to have measures of socioeconomic deprivation, such as household crowding, low maternal educational level and low birth weight, when compared to controls. Racial differences in morbidity from diarrheal illnesses were observed but could be attributed to these specific sociodemographic factors. Despite the low mortality caused by infantile gastroenteritis in the United States, it remains an important public health problem. However, even with intensive investigation the etiologies remain largely unknown.
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