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Rotavirus vaccine

  • Almost all children will have at least one episode of rotavirus diarrhea before the age of 5 years.
  • The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all babies between 6 weeks and 32 weeks (8 months) of age get the vaccine.
  • The vaccine is very safe. 

Rotavirus is the most common cause of serious diarrhea in babies and young children. It usually affects children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. Almost all children will have at least one episode of rotavirus diarrhea before the age of 5 years.

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 high 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.

The illness usually lasts 3 to 8 days.

How is rotavirus spread?

When children have rotavirus, their stool contains a large number of the germs. The virus enters the body through contact with the mouth.

The germs spread:

  • directly, by touching the hands of someone who has the infection.
  • indirectly, by touching something that has been touched by a person with the infection, such as toys, furniture or countertops.

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 February and May.

How can I prevent rotavirus?

  • Have your baby vaccinated with the rotavirus vaccine.
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands often to help prevent the spread of germs, especially after changing your baby’s diaper.
  • If your child is ill or vomiting she should stay home from day care or school until she is symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

How is rotavirus treated?

Because rotavirus is a virus antibiotics will not help. If your child has mild diarrhea, offer him plenty of fluids. An oral-rehydration solution (a mixture of water, salts and sugar used to prevent dehydration) might be needed if your child’s diarrhea is more serious.

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),
  • not able to drink, 
  • vomiting that won’t stop,
  • no tears, 
  • dry skin, mouth and tongue, 
  • faster heart beat, 
  • sunken eyes, 
  • grayish skin, 
  • sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on the baby’s head. 

What is the rotavirus vaccine?

There are two rotavirus vaccines available in Canada. They are available under these brand names: RotaTeq (Merck Frosst Canada) and Rotarix (GlaxoSmithKline).

Who should get this vaccine?

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all babies between 6 weeks and 32 weeks (8 months) of age get the vaccine.

Who should NOT get the vaccine?

  • Infants who had an allergic reaction (such as trouble breathing, hives or a rash) to a previous dose should not get the vaccine.
  • If your baby is sick with a minor cold or has a fever, he can still get the vaccine.
  • If your child has a weakened immune system, talk to your doctor about whether he should have the rotavirus vaccine.

When should my child receive the vaccine?

The vaccines are usually given with other baby vaccines, but can be given as early as 6 weeks. Babies must receive the first dose before 15 weeks of age.  All doses of rotavirus vaccine need to be given by 8 months (32 weeks) of age.

How is the vaccine given?

It is given in liquid form by mouth. Your child will need 3 doses of RotaTeq, or 2 doses of Rotarix. Doses are given at least 4 weeks apart.

Where can I get the vaccine for my child?

Talk to your doctor about the vaccine. It’s not covered by all provincial or territorial health plans, which means you will have to pay for it. 

How safe is the rotavirus vaccine?

This vaccine is very safe. 

Side effects don’t happen often. They are usually mild, and don’t last long. They can include diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee

Last Updated: October 2010