Gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes vomiting and diarrhea can be fatal and the number of people who died from gastroenteritis has more than doubled from 1999 to 2007. The findings of this study will be presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
CDC scientists used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to identify gastroenteritis-associated deaths that occurred from 1999 to 2007. The study describes the trends and causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths among all age groups in the United States.
"Gastroenteritis is very common, but can be very serious," said lead author Aron Hall, M.D., of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases. "By knowing the causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths and who's at risk, we can develop better treatments and prevent people from getting sick."
There was a five-fold increase—from approximately 2,700 to 14,500 deaths per year—for C. difficile. C. difficile, a type of bacteria often associated with health care settings that causes diarrhea, accounted for two-thirds of the deaths.
Norovirus was associated with about 800 deaths annually, though there were 50 percent more deaths in years when epidemics were caused by new strains of the virus. Norovirus is highly contagious. It spreads through person-to-person contact and contaminated food, water, and surfaces. People can get norovirus illness throughout the year. Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually, and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States.
"While C. difficile continues to be the leading contributor to gastroenteritis-associated deaths, this study shows for the first time that norovirus is likely the second leading infectious cause" said Hall. "Our findings highlight the need for effective measures to prevent, diagnose, and manage gastroenteritis, especially for C. difficile and norovirus among the elderly."