Almost all kids have had a rotavirus infection by the time they're 5 years old.
Rotavirus is one of the most common causes of diarrhea,
and severe infection (rotavirus gastroenteritis) is the leading cause of severe, dehydrating
diarrhea in infants and young children.
In the U.S., rotavirus infections are responsible for about 3 million cases of
diarrhea and 55,000 hospitalizations for diarrhea and dehydration
in children younger than 5 years old each year.
Although these infections cause relatively few U.S. deaths, diarrhea caused by
rotavirus causes more than half a million deaths worldwide every year. This is especially
true in developing countries, where nutrition and health care are not optimal.
Signs and Symptoms
Kids with a rotavirus infection have fever,
nausea, and vomiting, often
followed by abdominal cramps and frequent, watery diarrhea. Kids may also have a cough
and runny nose. As with all viruses, though, some rotavirus infections cause few or
no symptoms, especially in adults.
Sometimes the diarrhea that accompanies a rotavirus infection is so severe that
it can quickly lead to dehydration. Signs of dehydration include thirst, irritability,
restlessness, lethargy, sunken eyes, a dry mouth and tongue, dry skin, fewer trips
to the bathroom to pee, and (in infants) a dry diaper for several hours.
In the United States, rotavirus infection outbreaks are common during the winter
and spring months. It is particularly a problem in childcare centers and children's
hospitals because rotavirus infection is very contagious.
The virus passes in the stool of infected people before and after they have symptoms
of the illness. Kids can become infected if they put their fingers in their mouths
after touching something that has been contaminated. Usually this happens when kids
don't wash their hands
often enough, especially before eating and after using the toilet.
People who care for kids, including health care and childcare workers, also can
spread the virus, especially if they don't wash their hands after changing diapers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends a rotavirus vaccine be
included in the lineup of routine immunizations given to all infants.
The RotaTeq vaccine has been found to prevent approximately 75% of cases of rotavirus
infection and 98% of severe cases. Another vaccine, Rotarix, also is available and
is effective in preventing rotavirus infection. Your doctor will have the most current
information about these vaccines.
A previous rotavirus vaccine was taken off the market in 1999 because it was linked
to an increased risk for intussusception,
a type of bowel obstruction, in young infants. Neither RotaTeq nor Rotarix have been
found to have this increased risk.
Washing hands well and often is the best way to limit the spread of rotavirus infection.
Kids who are infected should stay home from childcare groups until their diarrhea
has ended. In hospitals, rotavirus outbreaks are controlled by isolating infected
patients and following strict hand-washing procedures.
An infant or toddler who becomes moderately or severely dehydrated may need to
be treated in a hospital with intravenous (IV) fluids to bring the body's fluid and
salt levels back to normal. Most older kids can be treated at home.
Your doctor may need to test your child's blood, urine,
or stool to confirm that
the diarrhea is being caused by rotavirus and not by bacteria. Because antibiotics
do not work against illnesses caused by viruses, the doctor will not prescribe antibiotics
to treat a rotavirus infection.
To prevent dehydration, follow your doctor's guidance about what your child should
eat and drink. Your doctor may suggest that you give your child special drinks that
replace body fluids, especially if the diarrhea has been going on for longer than
2 or 3 days.
In general, kids with mild diarrhea who are not dehydrated should continue to eat
normally but should drink more fluids. (Fruit juices and soft drinks can make diarrhea
worse and should be avoided.) Those who have mild to moderate dehydration
should get small, frequent amounts of an oral rehydration solution, then should go
back to eating normally when they're better. Children who are breastfed should be
A child who is vomiting will need to eat smaller amounts of food more often. Follow
your doctor's advice and don't give your child store-bought medicines for vomiting
or diarrhea unless your doctor recommends them.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor for advice if your child has signs of a rotavirus infection, including
watery diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Call immediately if your child has signs