Rotavirus Infections Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What is a rotavirus infection?
Rotavirus is a contagious virus. Among children, it's the leading cause of severe diarrhea. In some infants and children, diarrhea may be so bad that they become dehydrated and may require emergency care or hospitalization.

What causes a rotavirus infection?
Rotavirus usually spreads from fecal-oral contact. This normally happens because of poor hand-washing or from consuming contaminated food or water. In addition, the virus:

  • may also be spread from sneezing or coughing, though it’s less common
  • may live on surfaces such as doorknobs and toys for quite some time
  • peaks in the winter and spring

Are rotavirus infections common?
Most children have been infected with Rotavirus by the time they are 3. In fact, rotavirus infections are the most common cause of diarrhea in children. More specifically:

  • Rotavirus causes more than 125 million cases of diarrhea each year in children and infants worldwide
  • As many as 55,000 children are hospitalized each year in the U.S. due to rotavirus
  • In the United States, the number of childhood deaths from rotavirus is between 20 to 40 each year (compared to 600,000 worldwide).

What are the symptoms of a rotavirus infection?
Symptoms of a Rotavirus infection range from mild or severe. They may take up to two days to appear after coming in contact with the virus. While symptoms may vary child-to-child, the most common include:

  • fever, which usually subsides within the first couple of days
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea (usually watery and frequent; may last between three to eight days)
  • dehydration, which can occur quickly, especially in infants. Symptoms of dehydration may include:
    • lethargy or sleepiness
    • irritability
    • thirst
    • pale color to skin or mottling
    • less elasticity in the skin
    • eyes appear deeply sunken
    • baby's fontanelle (or soft spot) may feel sunken
    • decreased or absent tears
    • decreased urine output or fewer wet diapers
    • dry mouth

Can you prevent rotavirus infections?
Proper hygiene, hand washing and cleaning surfaces (such as toys and door knobs) are the best way to prevent catching a rotavirus. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two brands of vaccines that can help prevent Rotavirus infections, given when your child is 2 months, 4 months and potentially 6 months.

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