Rotavirusis a gastrointestinal disease that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. It occurs most often in infants and young children, although older children and adults can also contract the disease. While the introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in 2006 has reduced the prevalence of the disease in the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, around 215,000 children under the age of five died from rotavirus in 2013. The majority of these deaths occurred in developing countries, particularly India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of rotavirus.
- How is rotavirus spread? Rotavirus spreads through the fecal-oral route. The virus is shed throughan infected person’s feces, after which an uninfected person can contract the virus by touching a contaminated object and then touching his or her mouth. Contamination occurs when infected personsuse the toilet or change a diaper and do not properly wash their hands. The virus can be spread by contaminated hands, household surfaces, food, and water. The virus is present in an infected person’s feces for several days before the onset of symptoms and for up to ten days after recovery.
- What are the symptoms of rotavirus? Symptoms of rotavirus infection typically begin within two or three days of exposure to the virus. The illness presents first with abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting and then progresses to several days of diarrhea. These symptoms are typically mild in healthy adults. Children can experience more severe symptoms, however, and are at risk for dangerous dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, dizziness, and unusual sleepiness or fussiness.
- How is rotavirus diagnosed? Your doctor will typically diagnose rotavirus based on your symptoms and a physical examination. Occasionally, a stool sample will be taken to test for the presence of rotavirus antigens. This testing can be performed either in a laboratory or in-house at your doctor’s office using a rapid results test.
- How is rotavirus typically treated? There is no antiviral medication available to treat rotavirus; it is also important to recognize that antibiotics are not useful in treating rotavirus because the disease is caused by a virus, not by bacteria. Thus, treatment centers on lessening the severity of a person’s symptoms. The most important symptom to treat is dehydration. Patients suffering from rotavirus should drink plenty of clear liquids; apple juice and dairy products should be avoided, as they can make diarrhea worse. Oral rehydration solutions, like Pedialyte, can be useful in treating mild dehydration. More severe dehydration, particularly in children, may require hospitalization and intravenous fluids.
- How can I prevent rotavirus infection? Proper hygiene is key in preventing the spread of rotavirus. Make sure to wash your hands properly after using the toilet, changing a child’s diaper, or handling any potentially contaminated objects. In addition, an oral rotavirus vaccine is available in the United States and has proven quite effective in reducing the prevalence of the disease. The vaccine is given between the ages of 2 and 6 months; according to the CDC, nine out of ten children who receive the vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus infection. The vaccine carries very few side effects.
- What kinds of tests are used to test for rotavirus? Stool samples will most commonly undergo testing to detect rotavirus antigens. One such antigen test is an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), like the IVD Rotavirus Stool Antigen Detection Microwell ELISA. Another method is apolymerase chain reaction (PCR)test, which copies and amplifies small segments of rotavirus DNA, allowing doctors and laboratories to detect the presence of rotavirus in a stool sample.
Center for Disease Control (CDC). “Rotavirus: FAQs”. Available at
Mayo Clinic. “Rotavirus Overview.” Available at
National Human Genome Research Institute. “Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)”. Available at
Vaccines.gov. “Rotavirus.” Available at
World Health Organization (WHO). “Estimated Rotavirus Deaths for Children under 5 Years of Age.” Available at http://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/burden/estimates/rotavirus/en/.