In South Africa there has been an unenthusiastic response to oral rehydration therapy. Parents and patients still demand hospital therapy for gastro-enteritis, even in cases that can be successfully managed at home using oral rehydration solution (ORS). The aims of this study were to assess whether a period of contact with health workers (doctors, nurses and medical students) had an effect on the carers' knowledge of gastro-enteritis. Fifty carers of children aged 2 years and less with gastro-enteritis were interviewed on admission and on discharge from the paediatric short-stay facility. Eighty-eight per cent of the babies had had acute gastro-enteritis (for less than 7 days). According to the carers (44% on admission and 52% on discharge), teething was the commonest cause of gastro-enteritis. On discharge, 50% of carers did not know any of the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Sixty-seven per cent of carers had first tried ORS at home, but of these only 49% could prepare an acceptable solution. Clinics are the commonest source of information about ORS (according to 78% of carers). All the carers said they had received no health education in the hospital. On discharge only one carer knew that she had been given a follow-up date and why she had to bring the child for follow-up. Contact with health workers during a period of admission to the paediatric short-stay facility had no impact on caretakers' knowledge of gastro-enteritis and its management.