Rotavirus is a common viral infection that affects mostly babies and young children, although adults sometimes develop a milder form of the illness. Rotavirus is so common among children that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly all children will have a rotavirus infection by the time they are 5 years old. Because rotavirus is such a common childhood illness, most parents want to know how to recognise the symptoms, how long the virus will last and how to treat it and prevent future infections.
Rotavirus causes severe diarrhoea that is usually accompanied by vomiting, fever and sometimes dehydration. According to the CDC, rotavirus is the leading cause of diarrhoea in infants and young children both in the United States and around the world.
Symptoms of the illness usually appear about two days after exposure to someone with a rotavirus infection. Healthy adults infected with rotavirus may have only mild symptoms or none at all, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, children with a rotavirus infection usually have a fever, nausea and vomiting followed by watery diarrhoea. Because some children with rotavirus have severe or prolonged diarrhoea, they may become dehydrated due to the rapid loss of body fluids. The signs of dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic, include extreme thirst, little or no urination, a dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes and lethargy. Dehydration is a potentially life-threatening complication if left untreated. The Mayo Clinic warns that you should call your doctor right away if you or your child develop any symptoms of dehydration.
The vomiting and watery diarrhoea that accompany rotavirus may last from three to eight days, according to the CDC.
There is no specific treatment for rotavirus, according to the Mayo Clinic. The CDC and the Mayo Clinic emphasise that drinking an oral rehydration fluid with sugar and minerals can help to replace lost body fluids and prevent severe dehydration. If severe dehydration occurs, body fluids may need to be replaced using an intravenous solution given in the hospital.
The Mayo Clinic stresses that thorough hand-washing is an important way to prevent the spread of rotavirus infections. As of August 2009, two vaccines are approved in the U.S. to prevent rotavirus infections in young children, according to the CDC.