HealthDay News — The number of people who died from gastroenteritis more than doubled from 1999 to 2007, particularly among the elderly, according to a study presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

During the eight-year period, mortality increased from 7,000 to more than 17,000 gastroenteritis-associated deaths per year, Aron Hall, DVM, MSPH, of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases reported at the meeting.

“By knowing the causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths and who’s at risk, we can develop better treatments and help health care providers prevent people from getting sick,” Hall said in a press release.

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He and colleagues used the National Center for Health Statistics multiple cause-of-death mortality data to identify gastroenteritis-associated deaths, and found that the majority (83%) occurred among adults aged 65 years or older, with Clostridium difficile and norovirus among the most common infectious causes.

C. difficile mortality increased five-fold, from approximately 2,700 to 14,500 deaths per year, data indicate. Norovirus contributed to an average of about 800 deaths per year; however, norovirus-associated mortality rates surged by up to 50% during epidemic seasons. C. difficile-associated deaths were most frequent from March to May, and norovirus-associated deaths peaked from December to February, the researchers noted.

“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.”

Hall JA. “Gastroenteritis Deaths on the Rise in the United States: The Emerging Roles of Clostridium difficile and
Norovirus.” Presented at: International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases. March 11-14, 2012.