On November 13 and 14, 1996, a scientific symposium on oral rehydration therapy (ORT) was held at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, MD. The purpose of the meeting was to review the current treatment practices for the treatment of this disease in the United States. The group noted that diarrhea resulted in 300 to 400 deaths per year among children, ∼︀200 000 hospitalizations, 1.5 million outpatient visits, and costs >$1 billion in direct medical costs.

ORT is well established therapy for the treatment and prevention of dehydration due to diarrhea. The principles of ORT treatment include early adequate rehydration therapy using an appropriate oral rehydration solution (ORS), replacement of ongoing fluid losses from vomiting and diarrhea with ORS, and frequent feeding of appropriate foods as soon as dehydration is corrected.

The effective use of ORT has saved millions of lives around the world. However, in the United States, ORT is grossly underused. Contrary to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health care providers overuse intravenous hydration, prolong rehydration, delay reintroduction of feeding, and inappropriately withhold ORT, especially with children who are vomiting.

The expert panel noted that the majority of deaths, hospitalization, and visits to emergency departments could be prevented by the appropriate use of ORT. They generated guidelines for the treatment and prevention of dehydration secondary to diarrhea. These measures, together with training providers, could substantially reduce diarrhea mortality and decrease hospitalizations of children by 100 000 per year in the next 5 years.

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