Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and children worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before the development of a vaccine, most children in the United States had at least one bout with rotavirus by age 5.

Although rotavirus infections are unpleasant, you can treat most of them at home with extra fluids to prevent dehydration. Occasionally, severe dehydration requires intravenous fluids in the hospital. Dehydration is a serious complication of rotavirus and a major cause of childhood deaths in developing countries.

Vaccination can help prevent rotavirus infection in your infant. For older children and adults — who aren't as likely to develop serious symptoms of rotavirus — frequent hand-washing is the best line of defense.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

A rotavirus infection usually starts with a fever and vomiting, followed by three to eight days of watery diarrhea. The infection can cause abdominal pain as well. In adults who are otherwise healthy, a rotavirus infection may cause only mild signs and symptoms — or none at all.

When to see a doctor

Call your child's doctor if your child:

  • Has severe or bloody diarrhea
  • Has frequent episodes of vomiting for more than three hours
  • Has a temperature of 103 F (39.4 C) or higher
  • Seems lethargic, irritable or in pain
  • Has signs or symptoms of dehydration — dry mouth, crying without tears, little or no urination, unusual sleepiness or unresponsiveness

If you're an adult, call your doctor if you:

  • Aren't able to keep liquids down for 24 hours
  • Have frequent episodes of vomiting for more than one or two days
  • Vomit blood
  • Have blood in your bowel movements
  • Have a temperature higher than 103 F (39.4 C)
  • Have signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness on standing or lightheadedness

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use