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!

Is rotavirus contagious? How long is rotavirus contagious?

Rotavirus infection is highly contagious. Contamination of hands or surfaces with the stool of an infected person and then touching the mouth is the main method of spread. Rotavirus infection is contagious (can be spread to other people) from the time before diarrhea develops until up to 10 days after symptoms have disappeared.

How is rotavirus transmitted?

The primary mode of transmission of rotavirus is the passage of the virus in stool to the mouth of another child. This is known as a fecal-oral route of transmission. Children can transmit the virus when they forget to wash their hands before eating or after using the toilet. Touching a surface that has been contaminated with rotavirus and then touching the mouth area can result in infection.

There also have been cases of low levels of rotavirus in respiratory-tract secretions and other body fluids. Because the virus is stable (remains infective) in the environment, transmission can occur through ingestion of contaminated water or food and contact with contaminated surfaces. Rotavirus can survive for days on hard and dry surfaces, and it can live for hours on human hands.

How is rotavirus diagnosed?

The diagnosis of rotavirus may be made by rapid detection of rotavirus in stool specimens. Strains of rotavirus may be further characterized by special testing with enzyme immunoassay or polymerase chain reaction, but such testing is not commonly available or necessary.

What is the treatment for a rotavirus infection?

There is no specific treatment for rotavirus. For people with healthy immune systems, rotavirus infection of the bowel (gastroenteritis) is a self-limited illness, lasting for only a few days. The treatment consists of increased fluid intake (oral rehydration) to prevent dehydration. About one in 40 children with rotavirus infection of the bowel requires hospitalization for intravenous fluid.

What is the prognosis of rotavirus infection?

Rotavirus infection is a self-limited disease that resolves after three to nine days of symptoms. Rarely, severe dehydration accompanying rotavirus infection has led to death. Recognition of the condition and proper supportive treatment (rehydration) can prevent serious complications.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2015
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