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Seasonal screening for viral gastroenteritis in young children and elderly hospitalized patients: is it worthwhile?

BACKGROUND: Viral gastroenteritis is common, especially in young children. In adults, particularly amongst the elderly, it can lead to outbreaks at a time when demands on clinical services are at their peak.

AIM: To evaluate seasonal screening of young children and elderly patients with suspected viral gastroenteritis using multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for enteric viruses within a general hospital setting.

METHODS: Stool samples from 200 children aged five years and under were screened for rotavirus, adenovirus, astrovirus, sapovirus and norovirus using multiplex PCR and a combined rotavirus/adenovirus immunochromatographic test (ICT) during the winter of 2012. Diarrhoeal samples submitted to the laboratory from 195 adults aged 65 years and over attending as inpatients were also evaluated by multiplex PCR.

FINDINGS: One or more enteric viruses were detected by PCR in 56% of children. Rotavirus was the most prevalent virus, found in 19% of samples. Enteric (diarrhoea-associated) adenovirus was detected in 5% of samples and non-enteric adenovirus was detected in 14% of samples. Astrovirus, norovirus and sapovirus were detected in 18%, 12% and 10% of samples, respectively. The ICT yielded a slightly lower rate for rotavirus and enteric adenovirus, but gave more rapid results. Norovirus, rotavirus and adenovirus were detected in 15%, 2.5% and 1% of elderly adults attending hospital as inpatients, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Rapid screening of young children (for rotavirus, adenovirus and norovirus) and symptomatic, elderly adults (for norovirus) during winter months may help to limit nosocomial spread.

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