RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Evaluation and diagnosis of acute infectious diarrhea.

The appropriate approach to the diagnosis and management of acute infectious diarrhea is determined by the frequency and setting of the illness, the recognizable causes or syndromes, the cost and yield of available diagnostic tests, and the treatability of the disease. Acute diarrhea affects everyone throughout the world from one to more than six times each year, depending on age, location, and living conditions. The range of identifiable viral, bacterial, and parasitic etiologies is great, and the cost of indiscriminate use of etiologic studies for diagnosis is prohibitive. Because of its insensitivity for many organisms and poor selection of cases for testing, routine stool culture has been one of the most costly and ineffective microbiologic tests; the cost per positive result has traditionally exceeded $900 to $1,000. The appropriate treatment for the vast majority of cases (independent of their cause) is simple and effective: oral glucose- and electrolyte-containing rehydration solution. On the basis of an appropriate history and understanding of pathogenesis, fecal specimens can be selectively obtained and promptly examined for leukocytes and parasites, and the common noninflammatory diarrheas can be separated from the inflammatory infections in order to focus further studies on the latter group. The bacteria for which specific antimicrobial therapy should be considered usually cause inflammatory diarrhea in the United States. Therefore, only when the history or fecal leukocyte findings indicates an inflammatory process is it appropriate to culture for the routine invasive bacterial pathogens. In sporadic inflammatory diarrhea, culture methods should include those for Campylobacter jejuni as well as Salmonella and Shigella. Several special circumstances may prompt a consideration of parasites (including Giardia, Entamoeba, Strongyloides, Cryptosporidium), Vibrio, Yersinia, Clostridium difficile, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, food-borne agents, or sexually transmitted pathogens. The practical value of specific identification of rotaviruses (by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, Rotazyme, or electron microscopy) is primarily epidemiologic, particularly in hospitalized infants or young children. Using such a selective approach to fecal culture will greatly increase its yield and can reduce the cost per positive result from $1,000 to less than $150.

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