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
Rotavirus is present in an infected person's stool several days before symptoms appear and for up to 10 days after symptoms subside. The virus spreads easily through hand-to-mouth contact throughout this time — even if the infected person doesn't have symptoms.
If you have rotavirus and you don't wash your hands after using the toilet — or your child has rotavirus and you don't wash your hands after changing your child's diaper or helping your child use the toilet — the virus can spread to anything you touch, including food, toys and utensils. If another person touches your unwashed hands or a contaminated object and then touches his or her mouth, an infection may follow.
Because there are many types of rotavirus, it's possible to be infected more than once, even if you've been vaccinated. However, repeat infections are typically less severe.
Rotavirus infections are most common in children ages 4 months to 24 months — particularly those who spend time in child care settings. Older adults and adults caring for young children have an increased risk of infection as well.
Your risk of rotavirus is highest in winter and spring.
Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration, particularly in young children. Left untreated, dehydration can become a life-threatening condition regardless of its cause.
To reduce the spread of rotavirus, wash your hands thoroughly and often — especially after you use the toilet, change your child's diaper or help your child use the toilet. But even strict hand-washing doesn't offer any guarantees.
There are two vaccines offered against rotavirus:
RotaTeq. This vaccine is given by mouth in three doses, often at ages 2 months, 4 months and 6 months. The vaccine is not approved for use in older children or adults.
Although a few cases of intussusception — a rare but life-threatening form of intestinal blockage — were reported after vaccination with RotaTeq, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of cases in vaccinated children was similar to the number of cases in unvaccinated children and concluded that the vaccine didn't increase a child's risk of intussusception. A similar anti-rotavirus vaccine (RotaShield) was pulled from the market in 1999 because of an association with intussusception.
If after vaccination, your child has stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in his or her stool, or a change in bowel movements, contact your doctor immediately.
- Rotarix. This vaccine is a liquid given in two doses to infants at ages 2 months and 4 months. Clinical trials of the vaccine detected no increased risk of intussusception.