Rotavirus is a common virus that infects
the linings of the intestines. It
causes vomiting and diarrhea,
especially in babies and young children. Childcare centers are a common site of infection
They also might 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 is so severe that it can quickly lead to dehydration. A
child who's dehydrated might:
be very tired
have sunken eyes
have a dry mouth and tongue
have dry skin
have a sunken soft spot (fontanelle) in a baby
make fewer trips to the bathroom to pee
in infants, have a dry diaper for several hours
Is Rotavirus Contagious?
Yes, rotavirus passes easily from one person to another. Infections are common
during the winter and spring months, especially in group settings like childcare centers.
The virus passes in the stool (poop) of infected people before and after they have
symptoms. Kids can become infected if they put their fingers in their mouths after
touching a contaminated surface, like a toy. 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.
What Problems Can Happen?
Each year in the U.S., rotavirus infections:
cause about 3 million cases of diarrhea
lead to 55,000 hospitalizations for diarrhea and dehydration
in children younger than 5 years old
Severe infections, called rotavirus gastroenteritis, are the leading cause of severe,
dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children.
These infections cause relatively few U.S. deaths. But rotavirus-related diarrhea
causes more than half a million deaths worldwide every year, especially in developing
How Is Rotavirus Treated?
Babies and toddlers who are dehydrated may need treatment in a hospital. They'll
get 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, pee,
or stool to confirm that the diarrhea
is being caused by rotavirus and not by bacteria. Antibiotics only work against illnesses
caused by bacteria. So, the doctor will not prescribe antibiotics to treat a rotavirus
To prevent dehydration, follow your doctor's advice 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 lasted for more than 2 or 3 days.
Kids with mild diarrhea who are not dehydrated should eat as usual but drink more
fluids. Avoid fruit juices and soft drinks, which can make diarrhea worse. Those with
mild to moderate dehydration
should drink small amounts of an oral rehydration solution often. They can go back
to eating as usual when they're better. Breastfed children continue breastfeeding
A child who is vomiting will need to eat smaller amounts of food more often. Don't
give your child over-the-counter medicines for vomiting or diarrhea unless your doctor
Can Rotavirus Be Prevented?
The rotavirus vaccine can
prevent many causes of rotavirus. The vaccine is a liquid given by mouth to babies
at ages 2 and 4 months, and again at 6 months, depending on the vaccine brand.
Washing hands well and often is the best way to limit the spread of rotavirus infection.
Kids with rotavirus should stay home from childcare until the diarrhea is gone.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your child has signs of a rotavirus infection, such as:
Call right away if your child has signs of dehydration.