Diarrhea in American Infants and Young Children in the Community Setting: Incidence, Clinical Presentation and Microbiology

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The characteristics and microbiology of the full spectrum of pediatric diarrhea occurring in the U.S. community setting are not well-understood.


Six-month prospective cohort study of 604 healthy 6- to 36-month-old children recruited by the Slone Center Office-based Research Network.


The incidence of parent-defined diarrhea was 2.2 episodes per person-year. The median duration of diarrhea was 2 days with a median of 6 stools per episode. Outpatient visits and hospitalization were prompted by 9.7 and 0.3% of episodes, respectively. The most common microorganisms identified in healthy baseline stools were atypical enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (12.2%), enteroaggregative Escherichia coli (3.7%), Clostridium difficile (3.5%) and Clostridium perfringens (2.9%), and each of these was no more common in diarrhea stools. In contrast, all of the viruses analyzed were more prevalent in diarrhea specimens than in baseline specimens: enteric adenovirus (5.7% diarrhea versus 1.4% baseline), rotavirus (5.2% versus 1.4%), astrovirus (3.5% versus 1.4%), Sapporo-like virus (3.0% versus 0.8%) and norovirus (1.9% versus 0.8%). A likely pathogen was detected in 20.6% of diarrhea specimens. Vomiting and ≥16 stools in an episode were predictive of isolating a pathogen from the stool, each with a relative risk of ∼2.


Healthy young children in this study experienced more than 2 cases of diarrhea per person-year, but most were brief and do not require medical attention. Although most diarrhea-associated pathogens were viruses, no likely pathogen was found in almost 80% of cases; possible etiologies for these cases include currently unknown gastrointestinal infections, nongastrointestinal illnesses and dietary/environmental factors.

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