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Rotavirus is recognised as the most important agent of severe acute gastroenteritis (AGE) in young children. In a 2-year prospective survey, we investigated the epidemiology and clinical features of the viral and bacterial pathogens in children hospitalised for AGE. The study was performed in a Parisian teaching hospital from November 2001 to May 2004. Clinical data were prospectively collected to assess the gastroenteritis severity (20-point Vesikari severity score, the need for intravenous rehydration, duration of hospitalisation). Stools were systematically tested for group A rotavirus, norovirus, astrovirus and adenovirus 40/41, sapovirus and Aichi virus and enteropathogenic bacteria. A total of 457 children (mean age 15.9 months) were enrolled. Viruses were detected in 305 cases (66.7%) and bacteria in 31 cases (6.8%). Rotaviruses were the most frequent pathogen (48.8%), followed by noroviruses (8.3%) and adenoviruses, astroviruses, Aichi viruses and sapoviruses in 3.5%, 1.5%, 0.9% and 0.4%, respectively. Cases of rotavirus gastroenteritis were significantly more severe than those of norovirus with respect to the Vesikari score, duration of hospitalisation and the need for intravenous rehydration. Rotaviruses were the most frequent and most severe cause in children hospitalised for AGE, and noroviruses also account for a large number of cases in this population.