What is Rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a common illness among children and infants. It causes severe diarrhea. Every child is infected by the illness by the time they reach 5 years of age. In less-developed countries, it is often unable to be treated due to lack of available medications. In more developed countries, a vaccine is widely available with many children receiving it as part of their immunization plans.

Adults can also contract Rotavirus. It can be particularly harmful in adults with compromised immune systems.

The virus spreads through contact with infected stool. The contact can be indirect: a person who got in touch with the virus and did not wash their hands properly can carry it around and spread it throughout different surfaces such as doorknobs or handles. Particularly at risk are changing tables, day cares and other childcare facilities, hospitals and places in which it can easily occur that somebody gets in touch with small amounts of contaminated stool.

What are the Symptoms of Rotavirus?

Rotavirus infection symptoms usually show as fever and vomiting followed by abdominal pains and diarrhea. Those symptoms can appear 1 to 4 days after a person becomes infected with the virus.

Diarrhea can last several days. Frequent diarrhea and vomiting may lead to dehydration in children, with the illness possibly becoming fatal if not treated swiftly.

Rotavirus Causes

This uncomfortable illness is the result of an uncomfortable cause. Rotavirus is present in an infected person’s stool for several days before symptoms present and for up to a week and a half after symptoms subside. The virus is spread by hand-to-mouth contact during this time, even if an infected person is not showing symptoms. It can also be picked up by coming into contact with something an infected person touched without washing their hands, such as toys in a playroom for children, doorknobs and diaper changes if an infant is infected and a caretaker isn’t. The virus can also be transmitted through food or drink, so proper hygiene in the kitchen is imperative. Rotavirus can remain infectious for weeks or longer if the surface isn’t properly cleaned during that time, and for several hours on the hands.

How is Rotavirus Treated?

No specific medication is available to treat Rotavirus.  In many instances it will clear up completely on its’ own.  A healthcare provider may prescribe or recommend medications that will at the very least, alleviate symptoms.  Anyone with the illness, be it child or adult, should drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration.  More severe cases of Rotavirus may require hospitalization in order to get fluids via intravenous treatment.

Rotavirus Prevention

Fortunately, prevention is fairly simple. The first means of prevention is washing your hands, regularly and thoroughly. Wipe down surfaces like doorknobs, faucets and countertops with a disinfectant on a regular basis and avoid putting your hands near your mouth, which not only prevents spreading rotavirus, but other illnesses from your hands to your system. Daycare facilities are a hotbed for rotavirus, as children are more often infected and are less likely to have good hygiene practices on their own and are generally filled with toys and other things that are passed from person to person without being cleaned properly. If your child is presenting symptoms, keep them at home to minimize it spreading to other children.

While a person is battling the symptoms of the illness, the toilet bowl should be cleaned thoroughly after each episode of diarrhea or vomiting and a patient’s towels, washcloths, and eating utensils should not be shared with anyone else. Those recovering from rotavirus should not enter a swimming pool for the first two weeks after experiencing diarrhea and shouldn’t return to daycare, school or work until 48 hours have passed since the last episode of diarrhea and vomiting.

There are two vaccines for rotavirus, and these are a major method of prevention for infants. The illness is very prevalent and some experts believe there is no real way to prevent its spread to unvaccinated individuals as there’s no perfect way to keep from coming into contact with an infected person or object. RotaTeq® is administered in three doses at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age. Rotarix® is given in two doses at 2 months and 4 months. Both vaccines are given orally and while it’s not perfect, there has been a major reduction in severe and general rotavirus illness among infants who had been administered the vaccine. Unfortunately for older babies and children, along with adults, the vaccines are not approved for those older than 8 months, which is the age by which the last dose of the vaccine should have been administered.