Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhoea among infants and young children. Children under five years of age, especially those between six months and two years are most vulnerable to the disease. Nearly every child in the world has been infected with rotavirus at least once by the age of five. Immunity develops with each infection, so subsequent infections are less severe; adults are rarely affected.
Signs and Symptoms
Kids with a rotavirus infection have fever, nausea, and vomiting, often followed by abdominal cramps and frequent, watery diarrhoea. Kids may also have a cough and runny nose. As with all viruses, though, some rotavirus infections cause few or no symptoms, especially in adults. Most children recover at home within a few days, but some will need to see their doctor, and a few of these may even end up in hospital as a result of complications such as extreme dehydration. Signs of dehydration include: thirst, irritability, restlessness, lethargy, sunken eyes, a dry mouth and tongue, dry skin, fewer trips to the bathroom to urinate, and (in infants) a dry diaper for several hours.
The virus passes in the stool of infected people before and after they have symptoms of the illness. Kids can become infected if they put their fingers in their mouths after touching something that has been contaminated. Usually this happens when kids don't wash their hands often enough, especially before eating and after using the toilet.
People who care for kids can spread the virus, especially if they don't wash their hands after changing nappies.
A rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, is now included in the vaccination schedule for all infants in Zimbabwe. This is an oral vaccine which is administered in two doses, as a liquid from a dropper straight into the baby's mouth to swallow, at around two months and three months. The rotavirus vaccine is expected to prevent four out of five cases of vomiting and diarrhoea caused by rotavirus. Some of the rotavirus is in the vaccine and this helps your baby build up immunity so that the next time they come into contact with rotavirus they will not get the disease. The rotavirus in the vaccine is weakened, so your baby won’t get rotavirus disease just from having the vaccination.
Frequent hand washing is best to limit the spread of rotavirus infection. Children who are infected should stay home from childcare groups until their diarrhea has ended.
An infant or toddler who becomes moderately or severely dehydrated may need to be treated in a hospital with intravenous (IV) fluids to bring the body's fluid and salt levels back to normal. Most older kids can be treated at home.
Your doctor may need to test your child's blood, urine, or stool to confirm that the diarrhoea is being caused by rotavirus and not by bacteria. Because antibiotics do not work against illnesses caused by viruses, the doctor will not prescribe antibiotics to treat a rotavirus infection.
In general, kids with mild diarrhoea who are not dehydrated should continue to eat normally but should receive more fluids. (Fruit juices and soft drinks can make diarrhea worse and should be avoided.) Those who have mild to moderate dehydration should be given an oral rehydration solution in small, frequent amounts to correct the dehydration and then should go back to eating normally. Children who are breastfed should be breastfed throughout.
A child who is vomiting will need to eat smaller amounts more frequently. Follow your doctor's guidance and avoid giving your child store-bought medicines for vomiting or diarrhoea unless your doctor recommends them.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor for advice if your child has signs of a rotavirus infection, including watery diarrhoea, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Call immediately if your child is showing signs of dehydration.