Rotavirus: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment

05 February, 2019
Do you know what rotavirus is? Learn about how it's transmitted, its symptoms, and how to prevent it below.

What is rotavirus? This is a common question among mothers of children between 6 months and 5 years old who have intestinal issues.

This highly contagious disease is associated with the infection known as gastroenteritis, which leads to diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, and fever.

Below we’ll give you all the information related to rotavirus so you can learn how it’s transmitted and how to prevent it.

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a type of Vertebrate Reovaridae RNA family virus which affects the gastrointestinal system in newborns or nursing infants in mammals.

This highly-contagious virus is classified into six groups, identified by letters that break up the VP6 type to which they belong. Groups A, B, and C can develop in humans. Type A is the one that creates the most intense symptoms in children.

The virus enters the body via fecal-oral contact. It’s estimated that young children of nursing age will likely get it at least once before they turn 5.

Rotavirus: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment

How is rotavirus transmitted?

Rotavirus spreads via fecal-oral contact. The infectious particles in the air are breathed into the respiratory tract or enter by contact with the hands when touching any type of surface. This includes objects like toys that are exposed to the virus.

Rotavirus stays stable in the environment, so efforts to eradicate it by cleaning will be useless. It can survive even in highly hygienic spaces.

Once the virus has entered the body, its incubation period is approximately two days. Gastroenteritis (infantile diarrhea) can occur for 3 to 8 days.

What are the symptoms of rotavirus?

Symptoms can vary from patient to patient, or be experienced with more or less intensity. But almost all children who contract the virus experience:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Some may experience respiratory problems
  • In extreme cases of fever the child, may experience convulsions
  • Dehydration. A child presenting this condition will appear nervous or agitated, thirsty, hollow-eyed, will urinate very little, and have dry mucous membranes
Rotavirus: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment

It’s worth noting that rotavirus can often be confused with norovirus. This is a similar intestinal infection, but it has less severe symptoms. In any case, the only way to diagnose the issue definitively is via stool test. 

Treating rotavirus

Treatment for rotavirus varies according to your pediatrician’s recommendations and the severity of your child’s illness. The main recommendation is to keep your child well hydrated with drinks that have salts and sugars, to maintain electrolyte levels.

In extreme cases, especially for very young babies or children, liquids may be administered intravenously or via nasogastric tube. This is because on their own, they wouldn’t tolerate liquids being given to them.

It’s also recommended to feed the patient after several hours of hydration – whether they’re a nursing baby or a child who is able to eat a soft or hard diet. Try fruit slices, yogurt, and cereal, depending on the situation.

Vaccines

Vaccination is another option for combating rotavirus. There are two types of vaccines, mainly intended for nursing babies. They’re very easy to administer, consisting simply of a low dose given orally.

Their use is recommended for children under 2 years old who attend daycare, because they’re at a higher risk for contracting the disease. This is because they’re in constant contact with other children and share toys and other items.

As a final recommendation, always consult your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms in your child. That way, your doctor will do the appropriate stool test.

 

  • Davidson, G. P., Daniels, E., Nunan, H., Moore, A. G., Whyte, P. B. D., Franklin, K., … & Moore, D. J. (1989). Passive immunisation of children with bovine colostrum containing antibodies to human rotavirus. The Lancet, 334(8665), 709-712.
  • Parashar, U. D., Gibson, C. J., Bresee, J. S., & Glass, R. I. (2006). Rotavirus and severe childhood diarrhea. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(2), 304.
  • Ruiz-Palacios, G. M., Pérez-Schael, I., Velázquez, F. R., Abate, H., Breuer, T., Clemens, S. C., … & Cervantes, Y. (2006). Safety and efficacy of an attenuated vaccine against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(1), 11-22.