Can Adults Get Rotavirus?

Rotavirus Strikes People of All Ages

Getty Images/Paul Bradbury

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that is the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis (stomach flu) among infants and children. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. Typically, rotavirus lasts just a few days, but it's very uncomfortable.

The greatest risk for young children and infants with rotavirus is dehydration. In rare cases, or if a child is not kept hydrated, rotavirus can become quite serious.

In fact, it is a major cause of death in some parts of the world.

Because it's so common among children, some adults may think of rotavirus as a pediatric disorder. In fact, however, it can strike anyone of any age.

Rotavirus and Adults

Anyone can catch rotavirus. According to the Food and Drug Administration, "Humans of all ages are susceptible to rotavirus infection." In general, adult cases of rotavirus are relatively mild. On the other hand, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible than the rest of the population.

It's difficult for caregivers to control the spread of infection. This is especially true when dealing with sick children. It takes somewhere between 10 and 100 particles to infect a person. But those who are sick can secrete over 1000 virus particles in just one milliliter of fecal matter, according to the FDA. Even with very diligent hand washing, the chances of contamination are everywhere.

For individuals who may be more susceptible, rotavirus is a real concern. In fact, it is best to stay away from anyone with rotavirus if you are particularly sensitive to stomach upset or likely to react strongly to infection.

Self-Care for Adults with Rotavirus

Over the counter diarrhea medications like Kaopectate may be helpful, but often they have little effect.

If medications aren't helping, stop taking them. Instead, focus on keeping yourself hydrated. Drink as much water as you can handle. If you feel your stomach can manage it, eat something. Start out with crackers or toast, since these are generally the least offensive foods.

Try to avoid anything with dairy, which can worsen your diarrhea. Also, some individuals find that they suffer from lactose intolerance for a time (from weeks to months) following severe diarrhea. Be aware of this so you can switch to a milk brand like Lactaid once you are well again.

If possible, stay away from other people until you are really feeling better. Rotavirus is very contagious, so it's easy to infect workmates, friends, or family members.

When to Call Your Doctor

Most people can manage rotavirus on their own, but in some cases professional care is necessary. Do call your health care provider if your fever increases or if you feel like you cannot keep down any water.

Call your health provider immediately or go to a Hospital Emergency Department if you experience signs of serious dehydration such as:

  • very little or no urine
  • confusion
  • a weak or rapid heartbeat
  • very dry mouth
  • coolness in your arms and legs
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty walking or standing