What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a stomach and intestinal illness that mostly affects babies and young children. Rotavirus is contagious and spreads through contact with an infected person’s feces. This also can happen indirectly (touching a contaminated object, food, water, or the hands and mouth of an infected person). The virus enters your body when your unclean hand touches your nose or mouth. Most of the time, rotavirus is mild. The risk of catching rotavirus is greatest between November and May. Adults can get the disease, but their symptoms aren’t as severe.

What are the symptoms of rotavirus?

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, watery diarrhea, and stomach pain in mild cases of rotavirus. If your child has rotavirus, they also may be weak and cry more than normal. Dehydration (not getting enough fluids) is a symptom in more severe cases. Dehydration happens because vomiting and diarrhea cause your body to lose fluids. Symptoms can last between 3 and 8 days.

What causes rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a part of the Reoviridae family of viruses that commonly cause stomach and respiratory illness.

How is rotavirus diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose rotavirus in your child based on their symptoms and an office exam. If your doctor is uncertain, he will ask that you bring in a stool sample from your child. Your doctor will send the sample to a lab for testing.

Can rotavirus be prevented or avoided?

A rotavirus oral vaccine offers some protection against the disease. There are two different dosage schedules. One is usually given to babies at 2 and 4 months old. The other is given at 2, 4, and 6 months old. Your doctor will recommend which dosage schedule is right for your child. Your child should receive all doses before they are 8 months old. The vaccine is not 100% effective. Children can still get the disease after getting the vaccine. However, vaccinated children have less serious symptoms than children who didn’t get the vaccine. Beyond the vaccination, simple hand washing is the best prevention. Always wash your hands (and have your child wash their hands) after changing a diaper, whether or not the baby has the virus. If you know someone has rotavirus, wash your hands after touching them or anything they’ve touched.

Rotavirus treatment

Because rotavirus is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will recommend treatment for your child’s symptoms, especially for fever and diarrhea. In severe cases of the disease, where dehydration occurs, your doctor will focus on giving your child more fluids. You may be able to increase your child’s fluids at home through small amounts of ice chips or popsicles. If the problem is extreme, your child may have to go to the hospital to receive IV fluids (injecting fluids into your child’s veins by inserting a small needle into your child’s arm).

Living with rotavirus

Living with rotavirus will be unpleasant for a short time for your child and you, as the caregiver. Your focus will be on making your child comfortable and keeping your home free from contamination during their illness.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • If my child has rotavirus, how long is he or she contagious?
  • What’s the best way to give my child fluids?
  • What if I see blood in my child’s stool?
  • Is hand-washing with standard soap effective in fighting off the infection?
  • Do I need to use hand sanitizers?
  • Are there special foods that help reduce diarrhea?
  • Should I apply a special ointment to my child’s bottom to treat the irritation from diarrhea?