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Human Viral Gastroenteritis

M L Christensen

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During the last 15 years, several different groups of fastidious viruses that are responsible for a large proportion of acute viral gastroenteritis cases have been discovered by the electron microscopic examination of stool specimens. This disease is one of the most prevalent and serious clinical syndromes seen around the world, especially in children. Rotaviruses, in the family Reoviridae, and fastidious fecal adenoviruses account for much of the viral gastroenteritis in infants and young children, whereas the small caliciviruses and unclassified astroviruses, and possibly enteric coronaviruses, are responsible for significantly fewer cases overall. In addition to electron microscopy, enzyme immunoassays and other rapid antigen detection systems have been developed to detect rotaviruses and fastidious fecal adenoviruses in the stool specimens of both nonhospitalized patients and those hospitalized for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Experimental rotavirus vaccines have also been developed, due to the prevalence and seriousness of rotavirus infection. The small, unclassified Norwalk virus and morphologically similar viruses are responsible for large and small outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis in older children, adolescents, and adults. Hospitalization of older patients infected with these viruses is usually not required, and their laboratory diagnoses have been limited primarily to research laboratories.