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What Are Rotavirus Infections?

Rotaviruses infect the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). The name rotavirus comes from the wheel-like look of the virus as seen with an electron microscope. Rotavirus infections are the most common cause of severe diarrhea in babies and young children. In the United States, these infections may be seasonal (winter) but can occur anytime of the year. Almost all children have had a rotavirus infection by age 3. They can get repeated infections with different strains but then can have immunity to rotaviruses. Children 6 to 24 months old have the greatest risk of getting a severe illness. These infections cause many visits to hospitals and health care providers. Rotavirus affects all social and economic groups, in both industrialized and developing countries. In developing countries, however, rotavirus infections cause many childhood deaths.

What Causes Rotavirus Infections?

Rotaviruses are passed in stool of one child to the mouth of another child (fecal-oral route). Not washing hands before eating or after using the toilet can pass the virus. Health care and child-care workers can spread virus if they don’t wash their hands after changing diapers. Touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth area can cause infections. Virus can live for days on hard, dry surfaces and for hours on human hands. The infection is highly contagious.

Risk factors include feeding with formula instead of breast-feeding, low birth weight, attending child-care centers, and having young or inexperienced child-care givers. Children with weak immune systems can have serious infections.

What Are the Symptoms of Rotavirus Infections?

Symptoms depend on age. Newborns have very mild illness or no symptoms. Older babies and toddlers have sudden vomiting and fever, and then watery diarrhea. Symptoms start 1 to 2 days after infection. Vomiting is brief and diarrhea lasts 3 to 7 days. Pain or cramps in the abdomen (belly) may occur. Severe dehydration can develop. Its symptoms include lethargy; cool, dry skin; irritability; no tears when crying; dry or sticky mouth; sunken eyes; and extreme thirst.

How Are Rotavirus Infections Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made from symptoms and by finding rotavirus in stool samples.

How Are Rotavirus Infections Treated?

Infections usually go away without needing specific treatment. Treatment is mainly supportive, giving increased fluid intake and trying to maintain good nutrition during the illness. Special drinks (oral rehydration fluids) can replace body fluids, especially if diarrhea lasts for more than 2 or 3 days. Fruit juices and soft drinks shouldn’t be given; water, diluted formula, diluted clear fruit juices, and clear soups are best. Breastfeeding should continue. Older babies and children should start solid food as soon as possible. Sometimes, children with serious illness need a hospital stay. Immunization against rotavirus provides protection against infections.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Rotavirus Infections:

  • DO remember that frequent hand-washing is the best way to limit spreading rotavirus infections.
  • DO remember that infections go away on their own after 3 to 9 days.
  • DO have your baby vaccinated against rotavirus in the first 8 months of life.
  • DO keep infected children home and away from others until diarrhea is gone.
  • DON’T give your child store-bought medicines for vomiting or diarrhea unless your health care provider recommends them.

Contact the following source:

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
    Tel: (301) 496-5717
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
    Tel: (847) 434-4000
    Website: Rotavirus.aspx

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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