Diarrheal illnesses: a public health perspective.

Kans Nurse 2004 Apr;79(4):4-6

Kansas Department of Health and Environment, USA.

Diarrheal illnesses remain among the leading causes of morbidity in the United States. Approximately five million diarrheal cases occur annually (Chin, 2000; Ostroff & Leduc, 2000), with an estimated incidence of one diarrheal episode per person per year (Aranda-Michel & Giannella, 1999). Though the causes of diarrheal illnesses vary, infectious agents account for a majority of cases (Aranda-Michel & Giannella, 1999; Chin, 2000; Ostroff & Leduc, 2000). Most diarrhea-causing infectious agents are transmitted through food, water, or person-to-person via the fecal-oral route and are the cause of numerous diarrheal outbreaks. The risk for exposure to such pathogens within the general population is universal; however, persons in pediatric, geriatric, and other immunocompromised populations are at increased risk for subsequent illness and complications (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001; Ostroff & Leduc, 2000). Moreover, many persons with diarrheal illness do not seek medical care and self-treat with over-the-counter antidiarrheal agents, which have potentially serious side effects among high-risk individuals. The public health impact of diarrheal illness is apparent and emphasizes the need for early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, timely notification of illness with public health implications, and coordination between healthcare professionals and public health officials to prevent and control the spread of infection.

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April 2004

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