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Ecological analysis of social risk factors for Rotavirus infections in Berlin, Germany, 2007–2009

Hendrik Wilking1*, Michael Höhle1, Edward Velasco1, Marlen Suckau2 and Tim Eckmanns1

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany

2 Senate of Berlin's Department for Health, Environment and Consumer Protection, Berlin, Germany

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2012, 11:37  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-11-37

Published: 28 August 2012



Socioeconomic factors are increasingly recognised as related to health inequalities in Germany and are also identified as important contributing factors for an increased risk of acquiring infections. The aim of the present study was to describe in an ecological analysis the impact of different social factors on the risk of acquiring infectious diseases in an urban setting. The specific outcome of interest was the distribution of Rotavirus infections, which are a leading cause of acute gastroenteritis among infants and also a burden in the elderly in Germany. The results may help to generate more specific hypothesis for infectious disease transmission.


We analysed the spatial distribution of hospitalized patients with Rotavirus infections in Berlin, Germany. The association between the small area incidence and different socio-demographic and economic variables was investigated in order to identify spatial relations and risk factors. Our spatial analysis included 447 neighbourhood areas of similar population size in the city of Berlin. We included all laboratory-confirmed cases of patients hospitalized due to Rotavirus infections and notified between 01/01/2007 and 31/12/2009. We excluded travel-associated and nosocomial infections. A spatial Bayesian Poisson regression model was used for the statistical analysis of incidences at neighbourhood level in relation to socio-demographic variables.


Altogether, 2,370 patients fulfilled the case definition. The disease mapping indicates a number of urban quarters to be highly affected by the disease. In the multivariable spatial regression model, two risk factors were identified for infants (<4 year olds): Rotavirus incidence increased by 4.95% for each additional percent of unemployed inhabitants in the neighbourhood (95% credibility interval (CI): 3.10%-6.74%) and by 0.53% for each additional percent of children attending day care in the neighbourhood (95% CI: 0.00%-1.06%). We found no evidence for an association with the proportion of foreign residents, population density, the residential quality of accommodations and resident changes in the neighbourhood.


Neighbourhoods with a high unemployment rate and high day care attendance rate appear to be particularly affected by Rotavirus in the population of Berlin. Public health promotion programs should be developed for the affected areas. Due to the ecological study-design, risk pathways on an individual patient level remain to be elucidated.

Rotavirus infection; Urban health; Disease clustering; Social environment; Risk factors; Bayesian inference