Rotavirus is an infection of the intestines caused by a virus. It can cause severe diarrhea. Although most cases happen in children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, rotavirus may infect people of any age.
Children are infected with rotavirus by coming in contact with others with the infection. The virus is in the bowel movements of anyone who is infected. It can spread to other people if it gets on the hands, in food or water, or on things like toys. Children can spread the virus both before and after they start having diarrhea.
The symptoms usually start 12 hours to 4 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:
Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. A sample of your child's bowel movement may be tested for rotavirus. If your child has severe diarrhea, your child may have blood and urine tests to check for dehydration (a loss of too much fluid from the body).
There are no specific medicines that help diarrhea caused by rotavirus. The most serious problem caused by severe diarrhea is dehydration, so giving your child more fluids is important.
Your child needs to drink enough liquid to replace the fluids and minerals he has lost. Try to get your child to drink extra fluids if his body is losing a lot of fluid. One way to tell if your child is drinking enough liquid is to look at the color of your child’s urine. It should be very light yellow.
Babies under 1 year old
If you are not breast-feeding, give your child an oral rehydration solution (ORS) such as Pedialyte. An ORS is a mixture of fluids, minerals, sugar, and salts that replaces fluid lost by vomiting or diarrhea. You can buy these products at drug and grocery stores. Give the ORS instead of formula for the first 12 to 24 hours. Start giving formula again after your baby has gone 12 to 24 hours without vomiting. Keep giving your baby ORS as long as he has diarrhea.
If you are breast-feeding and your baby is urinating less often than normal, offer an ORS between feedings for the first 6 to 24 hours. If your child is vomiting, give small amounts of breast milk and ORS more often than you usually feed. It will be easier for your child to keep small amounts of liquid down.
Children over 1 year old
Give an ORS such as Pedialyte to start. You can also try giving your child water, ice chips, Popsicles, or half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks (half water, half soft drink). If you don’t have an ORS, you can give your child clear broth or water mixed with fruit juice. These are easy for your child’s body to absorb. Avoid concentrated fruit juices, dark sodas, milk, and milk products. They are not as easily absorbed and usually have too much sugar.
If vomiting is severe, your child may need to be given fluids with an IV.
The rotavirus vaccine can prevent rotavirus infection or help it be less severe. It is given by mouth to babies as part of their routine immunizations. A baby should get either 2 or 3 doses, depending on which vaccine is used. The first dose may be given as early as 6 weeks of age. The last dose should be given by 8 months of age.