Mast C, DeMuro-Mercon CJ, Kelly C, Floyd LE, Walter E. The impact of rotavirus gastroenteritis on the family. BMC Pediatr. 2009 Feb;9(11).

BACKGROUND: Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children and causes substantial morbidity and mortality. Although the clinical aspects have been well described, little information is available regarding the emotional, social, and economic impact of rotavirus gastroenteritis on the family of a sick child. The objectives of this study were to: 1) assess the family impact of rotavirus gastroenteritis through qualitative interviews with parents; 2) compare the clinical severity of rotavirus-positive and negative gastroenteritis; 3) test a questionnaire asking parents to rank the importance of various factors associated with a case of rotavirus gastroenteritis.

METHODS: The study enrolled parents and children (2-36 months of age) brought to one of the study sites (outpatient clinic or ER) if the child experienced > or = 3 watery or looser-than normal stools and/or forceful vomiting within any 24-hour period within the prior 3 days. The clinical severity of each child's illness was rated using a clinical scoring system and stool samples were tested for rotavirus antigen. Parents of rotavirus-positive children were invited to participate in focus group or individual interviews and subsequently completed a questionnaire regarding the impact of their child's illness.

RESULTS: Of 62 enrolled children, 43 stool samples were collected and 63% tested positive for rotavirus. Illness was more severe in children with rotavirus-positive compared to rotavirus-negative gastroenteritis (92% vs. 37.5% rated as moderate/severe). Seventeen parents of rotavirus-positive children participated in the interviews and completed the written questionnaire. Parents were frightened by the severity of vomiting and diarrhea associated with rotavirus gastroenteritis, and noted that family life was impacted in several ways including loss of sleep, missed work, and an inability to complete normal household tasks. They expressed frustration at the lack of a specific medication and the difficulty of treating the illness with oral rehydration solutions, but had a largely positive outlook concerning the prospect of a rotavirus vaccine.

CONCLUSION: A better understanding of how rotavirus gastroenteritis impacts the family can help healthcare providers ease parental fears and advise them on the characteristics of this illness, practices to prevent infection, and the optimal care of an affected child.

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