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Rotavirus Infection

What is a rotavirus infection?

Rotavirus is a virus that causes inflammation of the small intestine. The infection can prevent your body from absorbing water and nutrients from food. Rotavirus can infect people of all ages but is most common in children younger than 5 years. Rotavirus can spread through coughing, food or water, or contact with the bowel movement of an infected person. Rotavirus can remain on objects, such as clothes or toys, for many days. The infection can spread when someone touches an infected object.

Who is at increased risk for a rotavirus infection?

  • Babies and young children who are 3 months to 2 years old
  • Children in daycare
  • People who care for children
  • People who travel often
  • People with weak immune systems, such as from cancer, HIV, or organ or bone marrow transplants
  • Workers and patients in hospitals or nursing homes

What are the signs and symptoms of a rotavirus infection?

Symptoms usually begin 1 to 3 days after a person becomes infected with rotavirus. The rotavirus infection can be spread 2 days before symptoms start, and up to 10 days after. Symptoms normally last from 3 to 8 days and may include more than one of the following:

  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Severe, watery diarrhea that usually starts 1 to 2 days after a fever and vomiting
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Headaches

How is a rotavirus infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. If you have diarrhea, tell your healthcare provider when it started, and how often it occurs. He may check you for signs of dehydration. A sample of your bowel movement may be sent to a lab to be tested for infection.

How is a rotavirus infection treated?

A rotavirus infection may go away without treatment. You may need any of the following if you are dehydrated, or at risk for dehydration:

  • Extra liquids may be needed. Good liquids to drink include water or fruit juice. You or your child may need oral rehydrating solution (ORS). This is a drink that contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water. Ask how much liquid you or your child should drink each day. If you breastfeed, continue to breastfeed your baby.
  • A nasogastric (NG) tube or IV may be needed if you cannot drink liquids or your dehydration is severe. Liquids can be given through an NG tube that is put in through the nose and down into the stomach.

How can I help prevent the spread of a rotavirus infection?

  • Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Rotavirus vaccine helps prevent rotavirus infection. The vaccine is usually given at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. The vaccine may be given as early as 6 weeks of age. The final dose should not be given after age 8 months.
  • Clean items that may be infected. Use chlorine-based disinfectants to clean surfaces, toilets, toys, and shared items in your home.
  • Stay home while you are sick. Stay away from others for as long as your healthcare provider says you should. Do not return to work, school, or daycare until he says it is safe so you do not spread the virus to others.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child's body seems floppy and weak, or he does not respond to you at all.
  • You have trouble breathing or your heartbeat is faster than usual.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • The soft spot on your baby's head is sunken.
  • Your child cannot, or will not, drink at all.
  • Your child has a dry, sticky mouth, cries without tears, or has sunken-looking eyes.
  • You are confused or sleepier than usual.
  • You see things that are not there.
  • You cannot stop vomiting.
  • Your hands and feet suddenly become cold.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your child is drinking less liquid than usual.
  • Your child urinates less than usual or your baby has fewer than 6 wet diapers in one day.
  • You have a fever that is not going away or is getting worse.
  • You have blood in your bowel movements.
  • You have stomach pain, and more frequent diarrhea.
  • Your body is puffy and swollen, and your face is red.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.