Parent Information

Rotavirus

Rotavirus is a virus that is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children younger than 2 years of age.  Affected children can have diarrhea accompanied by fever and vomiting.  On occasion the vomiting and diarrhea becomes so severe, especially in young infants, that dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities can quickly occur.  The hospitalization rate is as high as 2.5%.  The symptoms can last for several days and on occasion the stools will not return to normal for 1 to 2 weeks.  Rotavirus is mostly a serious nuisance in the United States, but it continues to be a major cause of severe dehydration and death in developing countries.

Rotavirus occurs in epidemics every winter and usually begins to circulate in the northeast United States during the middle of winter.  The virus is transmitted from person to person by the fecal-oral route, but it can survive on surfaces and toys for periods of time.  Rotavirus is present in stool before the onset of diarrhea and can persist for 10 to 12 days after the onset of symptoms.  Widespread outbreaks in households, child care centers, and hospitals are common.  Virtually all children have been infected at least once by 3 years of age; reinfections are common, but tend to be milder.  The incubation period is 1 to 3 days.

The treatment for rotavirus is strictly supportive.  There is no cure for rotavirus other than time.  A laboratory can confirm the presence of rotavirus in a stool sample, but most of the time we will clinically diagnose your child with rotavirus based on the symptoms and the time of year.  If you feel that your child has a rotavirus infection, follow our vomiting and diarrhea instructions carefully and call us if you are concerned that your child may be becoming dehydrated.

The best method of preventing rotavirus infection is to wash your hands routinely and carefully, especially after changing diapers.  If your child wears diapers and has a rotavirus infection, he or she must be excluded from child care until the diarrhea no longer spills over the edge of the diaper.

Rotateq is an oral vaccine that helps to protects against the most common types of rotavirus.  We have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of children experiencing infection since the introduction of the vaccine.  It is given at the 2 month, 4 month and 6 month old visit.


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