What is Rotavirus? (with pictures)

O. Wallace
O. Wallace
Thorough hand washing can help prevent a rotavirus infection.
Thorough hand washing can help prevent a rotavirus infection.

Rotavirus is the most common culprit behind severe diarrhea in children. The name originates from the Latin rota, which means “wheel”, because of the virus' similarities to a wheel under the microscope. Rotavirus is transmitted through the stool of an infected person. Children are most often affected, due to their propensity for touching the diaper area and their mouths. Also, caretakers of small children may inadvertently spread rotavirus through improper hand washing after diaper changes or wiping.

IV fluids can help treat rotavirus.
IV fluids can help treat rotavirus.

Rotavirus is a force to be reckoned with. It is highly contagious and accounts for nearly three million cases of diarrhea in the United States annually. Approximately 55,000 American children are hospitalized annually with severe infections, and sadly, rotavirus claims the lives of nearly 600,000 children worldwide annually. The vast majority of children are exposed to rotavirus by the age of five.

One of the earliest vaccines recommended for infants is the one for rotavirus.
One of the earliest vaccines recommended for infants is the one for rotavirus.

The infection is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, usually lasting from three to eight days. Rotavirus may also be accompanied by a cough, runny nose and fever. The incubation period is about two to three days. Most cases of rotavirus occur during the months from November to April, and hot spots for exposure tend to be childcare centers and children’s hospitals.

Rotavirus may be accompanied by a fever.
Rotavirus may be accompanied by a fever.

The most important thing to watch for is dehydration, which can progress quickly, especially in infants. Watch for thirst, sunken eyes and dry diapers, or fewer trips to the bathroom for potty-trained children. A severe rotavirus infection called rotavirus gastroenteritis may result in hospitalization. If the infection progresses to severe dehydration, a child will usually receive intravenous (IV) fluids at the hospital. To make a diagnosis, the doctor will conduct a blood test to rule out bacterial infection.

Rotavirus diarrhea can last from three to eight days.
Rotavirus diarrhea can last from three to eight days.

If your child has a mild case of rotavirus, it can be treated with extra fluids at home. Fruit juices and soda should be avoided, because they may exacerbate diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, administered according the directions or under the supervision of a doctor, will help rebalance the child’s fluids. Small, frequent meals help to treat nausea and diarrhea. If your child exhibits signs of dehydration, see a doctor immediately.

Since it is impossible to keep a child’s hands clean at all times, even the cleanliest of homes have a visit from rotavirus at some point. Parents must remember that proper hand washing is key in preventing the virus from spreading from child to child. RotaTeq, a new rotavirus vaccine, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended for the normal vaccine schedule for children by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When the CDC approves it officially, infants will receive the vaccine at two, four and six months of age. It is administered in liquid form by mouth.

Testing on RotaTeq has shown that the vaccine is 75% effective in preventing rotavirus infection and 98% effective in preventing severe infections. Some parents may recall a failed rotavirus vaccine that was taken off the market in 1999 due to a possible serious complication called intussusception, a serious bowel obstruction in young infants. RotaTeq has not been shown to carry this risk.

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Discussion Comments

anon33920

can adults be infected by rotavirus? my husband complains stomach ache, after an hour he suffered from diarrhea together with vomiting and later on suffered from fever. he can't eat well, according to him every time he eats he feels like vomiting. i was thinking he is suffering from rotavirus but i'm not sure because children are the most affected ages. your reply will be much appreciated. thank you.

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    • Thorough hand washing can help prevent a rotavirus infection.
      Thorough hand washing can help prevent a rotavirus infection.
    • IV fluids can help treat rotavirus.
      IV fluids can help treat rotavirus.
    • One of the earliest vaccines recommended for infants is the one for rotavirus.
      One of the earliest vaccines recommended for infants is the one for rotavirus.
    • Rotavirus may be accompanied by a fever.
      Rotavirus may be accompanied by a fever.
    • Rotavirus diarrhea can last from three to eight days.
      Rotavirus diarrhea can last from three to eight days.