Rotavirus Infection

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Rotavirus Infection

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Rotavirus infection is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality in children in less developed countries where access to the rotavirus vaccine is limited. The infection causes significant fever, vomiting, and diarrhea in children. This can often lead to serious problems with dehydration, especially in very young children and infants.

Rotavirus infection facts

  • Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children throughout the world.
  • Most unvaccinated children become infected with rotavirus by age 3.
  • There are different strains of rotavirus, and multiple infections by different strains may occur.
  • Rotavirus causes the following symptoms and signs:
  • Rotavirus infection is highly contagious. The incubation period is typically about two days.
  • Rotavirus illness typically resolves on its own after three to nine days.
  • Two vaccines to prevent rotavirus infection are available: RotaTeq and Rotarix. Vaccines should be completed before an infant reaches 8 months of age.

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that infects the bowels, causing a severe gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and bowels). Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children throughout the world and causes the death of about 500,000 children worldwide annually. The name rotavirus comes from the characteristic wheel-like appearance of the virus when viewed by electron microscopy (the name rotavirus is derived from the Latin rota, meaning "wheel").

Since 2006, vaccination has been available for rotavirus infection. Prior to the availability of a vaccine, almost all children became infected with rotavirus by their third birthday. Repeat infections with different viral strains are possible, and most children had several episodes of rotavirus infection in the first years of life. After several infections with different strains of the virus, children acquire immunity to rotavirus. Babies and toddlers between 6-24 months of age are at greatest risk for developing severe disease from rotavirus infection. Adults sometimes become infected, but the resulting illness is usually mild.

Worldwide, rotavirus infection is still a significant cause of death in infants and children. Rotavirus affects populations in all socioeconomic groups and is equally prevalent in industrialized and developing countries, so differences in sanitation practices or water supply are not likely to affect the incidence of the infection.

In the U.S., rotavirus infections usually peak in the fall months in the Southwest and spread to the Northeast by spring, so infections are most common during the winter months from November to May. However, infection with rotavirus can occur anytime of the year.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2015

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