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.

What causes rotavirus infections?

The rotavirus is a member of the Reoviridae family of viruses and contains double-stranded RNA enclosed by a double-shelled outer layer (capsid). Infection with different strains of the virus is possible, so it is common to have several separate rotavirus infections in childhood. Adults may also become infected, but the resulting illness is usually less severe than that in infants and young children.

Rotavirus vs. norovirus

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. About 50%-70% of cases of gastroenteritis in adults are caused by noroviruses, whereas rotavirus most typically affects young children. Like rotavirus, norovirus is highly contagious and spreads rapidly. Noroviruses can be transmitted by consuming contaminated food and liquids, touching objects contaminated with norovirus and then placing the hands or fingers in the mouth, direct contact with an infected individual, and contact with infected individuals and objects in day-care centers and nursing homes.

What are risk factors for rotavirus infection?

Infants and children are most commonly infected with rotavirus. Since rotavirus infection is highly contagious, those who are around infected people are at high risk of infection. For this reason, children in group day-care settings are at risk. However, most children will become infected with rotavirus by 3 years of age.

Can adults get a rotavirus infection?

Yes, it is possible for anyone to develop a rotavirus infection. However, most adults who become infected have only minor symptoms, or may not have symptoms at all. Since neither vaccination nor previous infection provides full immunity, it is possible to get rotavirus infection more than once. The first infection tends to produce more severe symptoms than subsequent infections, and vaccination is very effective in infants in preventing severe symptoms (see below).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2016

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