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To identify the etiologic agent and risk factors associated with a hospital ward outbreak of gastroenteritis.
A regional referral hospital in upstate South Carolina.
We reviewed patient charts, surveyed staff, and tested stool from acutely ill persons. A case was defined as diarrhea and vomiting in a staff member or patient from January 5 to 13, 1996.
The initial case occurred on January 5 in a staff nurse who subsequently was hospitalized on the ward and visited by many staff colleagues. The staff were at a significantly greater risk for gastroenteritis than were patients (28/89 [31%] vs 10/91 [11%]; relative risk [RR], 2.9; 95% confidence interval [CI95], 1.5-5.5). All 10 case-patients had been exposed to case-nurses (assigned nurses who were primary caretakers), and eight had documented exposure to case-nurses 1 to 2 days before their illness. Patients exposed to case-nurses had a significantly increased risk of illness (8/57 [14%] vs 0/32; RR, >4.5; CI95, undefined). Neither staff nor patients had significantly increased risk from food, water, ice, or exposure to case-patients. Electron microscopy identified small round-structured viruses (SRSVs) in nine of nine stool samples.
This nosocomial outbreak of gastroenteritis was likely caused by SRSVs introduced by a staff member and spread via person-to-person transmission from and among staff. The potential for spread of SRSV-associated gastroenteritis from and among staff should be considered in developing strategies to prevent similar outbreaks in hospital settings
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