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.

Quiz: Your Baby's First Year!

What causes rotavirus infection?

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.

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).

What is the incubation period for rotavirus?

The time period from initial infection to symptoms (incubation period) for rotavirus disease is typically around two days, but varies from one to three days.

What are rotavirus symptoms and signs?

Symptoms of the disease include fever, vomiting, and watery diarrhea. Abdominal pain may also occur, and infected children may have profuse watery diarrhea up to several times per day. Symptoms generally persist for 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 can be associated with severe dehydration in infants and children. Severe dehydration can lead to death in rare cases, so it is important to recognize and treat this complication of rotavirus infection. In addition to the symptoms of rotavirus infection discussed above, parents should be aware of the symptoms of dehydration that can occur with rotavirus infection or with other serious conditions.

Symptoms of dehydration include

  • lethargy,
  • dry, cool skin,
  • absence of tears when crying,
  • dry or sticky mouth,
  • sunken eyes or sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the head of infants),
  • extreme thirst.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2015
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