Rotavirus is the most common cause of serious diarrhea in babies and young children. It usually affects children between the ages of 6 and 24 months of age. Without vaccine, almost all children will have at least one episode of rotavirus diarrhea before they turn 5 years old.
When older children and adults get rotavirus, they have a milder illness. They have less diarrhea and are less likely to become dehydrated.
What are the symptoms?
The first signs are usually fever and vomiting. Within 12 to 24 hours, children start to pass large amounts of watery diarrhea. Severe diarrhea and dehydration are the most common symptoms of rotavirus. Dehydration can happen as soon as 6 hours after the illness starts.
The illness usually lasts 5 to 7 days.
How is rotavirus spread?
When children have rotavirus, their stool contains a large number of the germs. The virus enters the body through the mouth, usually on fingers but sometimes on toys or other objects. The germs spread:
by touching the hands of someone who has the infection.
by touching something that has been touched by a person with the infection, such as toys, furniture or countertops. The germs can survive a long time on surfaces.
Children can spread rotavirus both before and after they develop symptoms. The illness usually starts between 1 and 3 days after someone is exposed to the virus. Children who have been infected once can be infected again. Usually the illness is less severe after the first time.
Outbreaks of rotavirus diarrhea in Canada usually happen between December and May.
How is rotavirus treated?
Because rotavirus is a virus antibiotics will not help. If your child has mild diarrhea, offer plenty of fluids. An oral rehydration solution (a mixture of water, salts and sugar used to prevent dehydration) may be needed if your child’s diarrhea is more serious.
If you are breastfeeding, continue to do so. This will help keep your baby hydrated.
In severe cases, your infant or toddler may need to be treated with intravenous (IV) fluids in a hospital. Call your child’s doctor if you see signs of dehydration:
decreased urination (fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours),