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ROTAVIRUS: SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT, AND PREVENTION

Dr. Mersad Alimoradi 14 Apr 2023
ROTAVIRUS: SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT, AND PREVENTION

Vomiting. Fever. Stomach pain. Diarrhea. Those are symptoms that babies and toddlers often experience, and they can happen for numerous reasons. So what might cause fever and vomiting followed by diarrhea in children?

The rotavirus is an RNA virus that causes a stomach infection, most commonly in kids under five years of age.

Before developing a vaccine, most kids got a rotavirus infection at least once before turning five. 

The virus spreads through hand-to-mouth contact after touching unwashed hands, surfaces, or objects contaminated by the rotavirus.

A rotavirus infection starts with a fever and vomiting for a couple of days and then watery diarrhea for up to seven days, which can be severe and cause dehydration.

There are no medications for rotavirus infections, but you can treat your child at home by giving them plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Continue reading to learn more about rotavirus, its symptoms, how it spreads, how to treat it, and what you can do to shield your kid from rotavirus infection.

What Is Rotavirus Infection?

The rotavirus is a stomach bug that can cause diarrhea and vomiting with fever, especially in babies, toddlers, and children under five years.

It causes a gastrointestinal infection (an inflammation in the stomach and intestines) known as gastroenteritis or stomach flu.    

It is a highly contagious double-stranded RNA virus and one of the common causes of diarrheal diseases in young children. Rotavirus diarrhea is usually watery and can be severe.

This virus is easily transmittable to kids and adults alike. Although rotavirus infection commonly occurs in young children, adults can also catch it, but it is usually less severe. Kids can easily catch rotavirus from each other. That is why rotavirus outbreaks can happen in daycares, nurseries, and other childcare centers, especially during late winter or early spring.

Most kids contracted the virus at least once by age 5 before the rotavirus vaccination was developed.     

What Are the First Symptoms of Rotavirus?

A rotavirus infection typically starts two days after the virus is contracted.

Early rotavirus symptoms in children are vomiting and a fever for 2-3 days, followed by watery diarrhea, which can be green or brown in color and foul smelling for up to seven days. The virus can also cause stomach pain.

Healthy adults may develop only mild symptoms or none at all after catching the rotavirus.

Frequent vomiting and severe diarrhea can cause dehydration (loss of body fluids), especially if your child does not feel like eating or drinking while sick.

Signs of dehydration include the following:

  • Peeing less than usual or dry diapers
  • Crying without tears
  • A dry mouth
  • Feeling tired and out of energy
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Strong-smelling, dark-colored urine

Dehydration can be dangerous if not treated promptly – severe dehydration can be fatal.

Contact your doctor or pediatrician immediately if you notice any dehydration symptoms in your child.

How Does Someone Get Rotavirus?

The rotavirus spreads through hand-to-mouth contact. You or your child can catch the rotavirus by touching contaminated hands, objects, or surfaces and then touching your mouth.   

People infected with the rotavirus shed the virus in their stool (poop) a few days before their symptoms start and up to ten days after they stop. That is how the virus gets out and spreads.

If you or your child have rotavirus and you do not wash your hands properly after using the toilet or changing the child’s diapers, the virus spreads to your hands.

From there, the virus can spread to anything you touch, including surfaces, kitchenware, food, and utensils.

The same goes for older children who have rotavirus. When they wipe after using the toilet, the virus spreads to their hands. If they do not wash their hands well, they can contaminate anything they touch, including toys, crayons, foods, and surfaces.

When another adult or child touches unwashed hands or contaminated objects or surfaces, the virus spreads to their hands and subsequently to the mouth through hand-to-mouth contact. And they can become infected with the rotavirus.

The rotavirus can live on surfaces and objects that are not disinfected and remain infectious for several weeks.

A person could catch the rotavirus more than once but repeat infections are typically less severe. 

Does Rotavirus Go Away On Its Own?

You can not treat rotavirus with antibiotics or antivirals – rotavirus infection usually resolves on its own within about a week.

However, the vomiting and diarrhea that come with it can cause dehydration, which is a serious concern and might require hospitalization. 

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep your child hydrated until the virus works its way out of the body. 

You can treat a rotavirus infection at home by giving your kid extra fluids to prevent dehydration, including:

  • Water
  • Ice chips
  • Ginger ale
  • Broth-based soups
  • Clear sodas

Avoid sugary foods and drinks, apple juice, cheese, and fatty foods that can worsen vomiting and diarrhea.

Your doctor can recommend rehydration fluids, like Pedialyte, with electrolytes to help replace the body minerals lost through diarrhea and vomiting. 

In case of severe dehydration, your child might need to receive fluids through an IV (intravenously) at the hospital.

Is Rotavirus Deadly?

In most cases, you can treat a rotavirus infection at home with fluids to prevent dehydration. You will have a rough week caring for your child while they’re sick, but they should be fine within 7-10 days.   

However, severe vomiting and diarrhea can cause serious dehydration, which could be deadly if left untreated.

Be alert for any indications of dehydration and contact your doctor or your child’s pediatrician immediately if they happen.

How To Prevent A Rotavirus Infection?

The best way to prevent rotavirus infections is by getting vaccinated against the virus. Vaccinating your child will make it less likely for them to get infected.  

There are two rotavirus vaccines available for infants:

  • The RotaTeq (RV5/ Rotavirus pentavalent vaccine): Given over the course of three doses at 2, 4, and 6 months.
  • The Rotarix (RV1): Given in two doses at 2 and 4 months of age. 

Although a vaccinated person or child can still become infected with rotavirus, the symptoms are usually less severe.

You can help to stop the rotavirus from spreading by frequently washing your and your child’s hands. You should also disinfect contaminated surfaces or objects because the virus can remain infectious for several weeks.

If your child develops a fever, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or any other concerning symptoms, keep them well-rested at home. Do not send them to daycare, preschool, or playgrounds until you figure out what is causing their symptoms.  

That would help prevent the spreading of rotavirus to other children and a possible outbreak.

Parents know how difficult and exhausting it is to have a sick child and the pain of watching them experience unpleasant symptoms. Although rotavirus infections are uncomfortable, you can usually treat your child with fluids at home to prevent complications.

Wash hands frequently, disinfect surfaces, and contact your doctor or pediatrician for recommendations on handling a rotavirus infection. Watch out for signs of severe dehydration, and call the doctor immediately if you notice any.

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About the Author:
Dr. Mersad is a medical doctor, author, and editor based in Germany. He's managed to publish several research papers early in his career. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge. Thus, he spends a big portion of his time writing educational articles for everyone to learn.

Sources:

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