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  • Rotavirus is a viral infection of the intestines that can cause severe diarrhea.
  • The most serious problem caused by severe diarrhea is dehydration, so giving your child more of the right fluids is important.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your healthcare provider what symptoms or problems you should watch for, and what to do if your child has them.


What is rotavirus?

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.

What is the cause?

Children are infected with rotavirus when they come into contact with others who have 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 such as toys. Children can spread the virus both before and after they start having diarrhea.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms usually start 12 hours to 4 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

How is it diagnosed?

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).

How is it treated?

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 liquids is important.

Your child needs to drink enough liquid to replace the fluids and minerals lost. Try to get your child to drink extra liquid if your child’s 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 clear to light yellow.

Babies under 1 year old

If you are not breastfeeding, 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.

If you are breastfeeding 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 frozen ice pops or half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks or ginger ale (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 soft drinks, 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 at a clinic or hospital.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider.
  • Make sure your child drinks lots of liquids. Start with small amounts of ORS, such as 1 teaspoon every 5 minutes, and then slowly increase the amount.
  • Ask your child’s provider:
    • How and when you will get your child’s test results
    • How long it will take your child to recover
    • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
    • How to take care of your child at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them
  • Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent rotavirus?

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 8 weeks of age. The last dose should be given by 8 months of age.

Wash your hands after changing your child’s diaper or after helping your child go to the toilet. Have your child wash his or her hands often, especially after using the restroom. You and your child should also wash your hands before and after meals.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-09-06
Last reviewed: 2019-03-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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