Rotavirus: Causes and treatment

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes inflammation, or gastroenteritis, of the stomach and intestines. It can cause severe dehydration, and this can be fatal.

The virus can affect adults, but the most severe cases are among unvaccinated children aged from 3 to 35 months. Before 3 months, infants usually have immunity from their mother.

In the United States (U.S.), rotavirus used to be most common during the winter and spring months, but since the introduction of a vaccine, this is less consistent.


[Rotavirus affects stomach and intestine.]
Rotavirus can be found infecting the stomach and intestine.

Symptoms take about 2 days to appear after infection.

They include:



watery diarrhea

abdominal pain

Profuse watery diarrhea may occur several times in a day. Vomiting and diarrhea can last from 3 to 8 days.

This can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

decreased urination


dry or overly cool skin

absence of tears when crying

dry or sticky mouth

dry throat

sunken eyes

sunken fontanel, the soft spot on the head of an infant

extreme thirst

feeling dizzy on standing up

A child may be unusually sleepy or fussy.

After one infection, a repeat infection is possible. However, as immunity develops with each infection, subsequent cases are less severe. There may also be different strains of the virus.

Most adults build up immunity during childhood, so they are less susceptible to rotavirus.

However, adults can catch it, especially if they have a compromised immune system, if they are traveling in a place where the virus is common, or if they are exposed to an epidemic. An adult can also catch the virus from a child.

The dehydration that can result from rotavirus can be more serious than the infection itself. It is the most common cause of death in rotavirus cases.

In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 215,000 children worldwide died due to rotavirus infection, mostly in developing countries.

[rotavirus man approaches toilet]
Rotavirus causes severe diarrhea.

A stool test can detect rotavirus.

In a laboratory, enzyme immunoassay can detect the virus.

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