Rotavirus Infection

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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 fever, vomiting, and watery diarrhea.
  • Rotavirus infection is highly contagious.
  • Rotavirus illness typically resolves on its own after three to nine days.
  • Vaccines to prevent rotavirus infection are available.

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that infects the 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 the ages of 6 and 24 months 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 8/5/2014

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Learn about the causes, symptoms, and complications of rotavirus infection.

Moms Uninformed About Rotavirus Infection

A survey of 600 U.S. mothers with children under the age three revealed that over 70% of mothers have read or heard little or nothing about rotavirus infection, the most common cause of diarrhea in young children throughout the world. Almost all children have had multiple rotavirus infections by the time they enter kindergarten. While the illness is normally self-limited and does not require special treatment, complications and even death can result from severe dehydrationthat can occur with rotavirus illness when supportive treatment (rehydration) is not given. Rotavirus infection is responsible for an estimated 500,000 visits to doctor's offices and 160,000 emergency-room visits among children each year in the U.S.

Rotavirus symptoms include:

  • fever,
  • vomiting, and
  • watery diarrhea.

Abdominal painmay also occur, and infected children may have profuse watery diarrhea up to several times per day. Symptoms can last from three to nine days. Immunity from repeated infection is incomplete after a rotavirus infection, but repeated infections tend to be less severe than the original infection.

Rotavirus infection is highly contagious. The primary mode of transmission of rotavirus is the passage of the virus in stool to the mouth of another child, known as a fecal-oral route of transmission. The virus can live for hours on hands and even longer on hard surfaces. Since the virus is so prevalent, it is very difficult or even impossible to prevent your child from acquiring a rotavirus infection.