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Rotavirus Infection


Brenda L. Tesini

, MD, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Last full review/revision Jul 2021| Content last modified Jul 2021
Topic Resources
  • Rotavirus is a viral infection of the digestive tract that can cause severe dehydration.

  • Typical symptoms include fever, vomiting, and watery diarrhea.

  • The diagnosis is based on symptoms.

  • Routine vaccination can prevent rotavirus infection.

  • Most children get better by resting and drinking fluids, but a few are given fluids by vein (intravenously).

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhea in young children aged 3 to 15 months. It is one of the viruses that causes gastroenteritis Gastroenteritis in Children Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the digestive tract that results in vomiting, diarrhea, or both and is sometimes accompanied by fever or abdominal cramps. Gastroenteritis is usually caused... read more . In the United States before rotavirus vaccination became available, about 50,000 to 70,000 children under the age of 5 were hospitalized each year for diarrhea caused by rotavirus. Although hardly any children die in the United States from rotavirus, worldwide, the virus causes about 215,000 deaths a year in children under the age of 5. Most of these children live in low-income countries.

The virus is spread from person to person, especially if people with diarrhea do not thoroughly wash their hands after a bowel movement. Infection also can occur if people touch their mouth after touching an object (such as a diaper or toy) contaminated by infected stool. All such transmission involving infected stool is called fecal-oral transmission. People can also become infected if they eat food or drink water that is contaminated with the virus. Adults can become infected after close contact with an infected infant, but serious illness is rare.

During the winter in temperate climates, rotavirus causes most cases of diarrhea that are serious enough to send infants and toddlers to the hospital. Before the use of rotavirus vaccine in 2006, a wave of rotavirus illness would begin in the Southwest in November and end in the Northeast in March. Now, the disease occurs less predictably and can occur year round.

Did You Know...

  • Rotavirus infections cause about 500,000 deaths a year, mostly in developing countries.

Symptoms of Rotavirus Infection

Rotavirus symptoms begin with fever and vomiting, followed by watery diarrhea, which typically lasts 5 to 7 days. If fluid losses are not replaced, dehydration Dehydration in Children Dehydration is loss of water from the body, usually caused by vomiting and/or diarrhea. Dehydration occurs when there is significant loss of body water and, to varying amounts, electrolytes... read more often develops. Dehydration makes the child weak and listless, with a dry mouth and rapid pulse.

Diagnosis of Rotavirus Infection

  • A doctor's evaluation

Doctors do not usually do tests to detect rotavirus unless they are trying to identify an outbreak. When necessary, samples of stool are sent to a laboratory for a rapid test.

Prevention of Rotavirus Infection

  • Good hygiene

  • Rotavirus vaccine

Two vaccines to prevent rotavirus are available. Rotavirus vaccine Rotavirus Vaccine read more is one of the routinely recommended infant vaccines Childhood Vaccination Schedule Most doctors follow the vaccination schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC—see the schedule for infants and children and the schedule for older children... read more . Depending on the vaccine used, two or three doses of the vaccine are given by mouth at ages 2 months and 4 months or at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months.

Treatment of Rotavirus Infection

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