The Basics of Rotavirus Infection

The Symptoms and Treatment of This Highly Contagious Virus

Rotavirus can be serious in young children.
Rotavirus can be serious in young children. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Rotavirus (row-tuh-virus) is a highly contagious virus that affects infants and young children under five years of age. Rotavirus can cause gastroenteritis, the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Depending on what area of the country they reside, children are most likely infected with rotavirus between winter and spring seasons.

Severe cases of rotavirus can lead to dehydration, which depletes the body of the water and electrolytes.

Young children may develop convulsions or go into shock when they are dehydrated and require intravenous fluids to rehydrate.

Causes of Rotavirus

Rotavirus is passed from one to another by the stool of infected people both before and after they have symptoms of the disease. Children become infected after touching something that is contaminated, usually because they don’t wash their hands often enough. Health care and child care workers can also spread the disease if they are not diligent about washing their hands, particularly after changing diapers.

Symptoms of Rotavirus

Rotavirus typically begins with a mild fever. It is then generally followed with vomiting and upset stomach. Symptoms of rotavirus usually include the following:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain

Children affected with rotavirus can become severely dehydrated requiring hospitalization.

Symptoms of dehydration as a result of rotavirus include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of urination
  • Crying without tears
  • Skin that is dry and cool
  • A sticky or dry mouth
  • Eyes that appear sunken
  • A sunken soft spot on the top of the head
  • Extreme thirst

More severe cases of rotavirus can cause death. Adults who contract rotavirus tend to have milder symptoms than young children, though the symptoms of a person's first rotavirus tend to be the most severe.

Treatment of Rotavirus

Treatment of rotavirus at home includes drinking liquids to prevent dehydration. Your doctor may recommend special drinks to replace fluids that have been lost. Avoid fruit juices and soft drinks because they can make diarrhea worse.

For more severe cases of rotavirus with dehydration, hospitalization with intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary for rehydration.

Prevention of Rotavirus

Rotavirus vaccines have proven to be effective in preventing the disease. The CDC recommends vaccination of infects with one of the two available vaccines:

  • RotaTeq® (RV5) – given in three doses at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months of age
  • Rotarix® (RV1) – given in two doses at ages 2 months and 4 months of age

Both of the vaccines are given orally and are considered to be effective in preventing severe rotavirus disease. The vaccine, however, will not prevent diarrhea or vomiting that is caused by other common viruses.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Nemours Foundation


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