Rotavirus Infection

Rotaviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute stomach and bowel upset (gastroenteritis) in all ages. Rotavirus infection may also be called infantile diarrhea, winter diarrhea, acute nonbacterial infectious gastroenteritis, and acute viral gastroenteritis. It occurs especially in young children. Children 6 months to 2 years of age, premature infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are more likely to have severe symptoms.

CAUSES

Rotaviruses are transmitted by the fecal-oral route. This means the virus is spread by eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated with infected stool. The virus is most commonly spread from person to person when somone's hands are contaminated with infected stool. For example, infected food handlers may contaminate foods. This can occur with foods that require handling and no further cooking, such as salads, fruits, and hors d'oeuvres. Rotaviruses are quite stable. They can be hard to control and eliminate in water supplies. Rotaviruses are a common cause of infection and diarrhea in child-care settings.

SYMPTOMS

Some children have no symptoms. The period after infection but before symptoms begin (incubation period) ranges from 1 to 3 days. Symptoms usually begin with vomiting. Diarrhea follows for 4 to 8 days. Other symptoms may include:

  • Low-grade fever.

  • Temporary dairy (lactose) intolerance.

  • Cough.

  • Runny nose.

DIAGNOSIS

The disease is diagnosed by identifying the virus in the stool. A person with rotavirus diarrhea often has large numbers of viruses in his or her stool.

TREATMENT

There is no cure for rotavirus infection. Most people develop an immune response that eventually gets rid of the virus. While this natural response develops, the virus can make you very ill. The majority of people affected are young infants, so the disease can be dangerous. The most common symptom is diarrhea. Diarrhea alone can cause severe dehydration. It can also cause an electrolyte imbalance. Treatments are aimed at rehydration. Rehydration treatment can prevent the severe effects of dehydration. Antidiarrheal medicines are not recommended. Such medicines may prolong the infection, since they prevent you from passing the viruses out of your body. Severe diarrhea without fluid and electrolyte replacement may be life-threatening.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Ask your caregiver for specific rehydration instructions.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • There is decreased urination.

  • You have a dry mouth, tongue, or lips.

  • You notice decreased tears or sunken eyes.

  • You have dry skin.

  • Your breathing is fast.

  • Your fingertip takes more than 2 seconds to turn pink again after a gentle squeeze.

  • There is blood in your vomit or stool.

  • Your abdomen is enlarged (distended) or very tender.

  • There is persistent vomiting.

Most of this information is courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Food Illness Fact Sheet.