What is rotavirus?
Rotavirus is the most common cause of childhood diarrhoea worldwide. Infants and young children in crèches and children's hospitals are most often infected. Susceptibility is greatest between 6 and 24 months of age. Usually by three years of age most people have been infected and have acquired immunity to the virus. The virus is also a common cause of diarrhoea in the elderly living in long-term care facilities and homes for older adults.

How is rotavirus spread?
Rotavirus is highly contagious and is normally transmitted via the faecal-oral route. Infection may also spread through airborne droplets and contaminated water. The virus can survive well on inanimate objects and so contaminated environmental surfaces such as toys can facilitate the spread of infection. Rotavirus is shed in the faeces of infected individuals during the acute stages of illness and for a short time afterwards; this can be up to a week in a healthy child but as long as 1 month in an immunocompromised individual.

What are the symptoms of infection?
Symptoms generally appear within 2 days after initial infection and include vomiting, watery diarrhoea, and fever, which typically last 3 to 8 days. With severe vomiting and diarrhoea a child may become dehydrated from acute loss of fluid and electrolytes and require hospitalisation for rehydration therapy. If left untreated dehydration could lead to shock, cardiac arrhythmia and death.

How is rotavirus diagnosed?
Diagnosis may be made by rapid antigen detection of rotavirus in stool specimens. Strains may be further characterized by enzyme immunoassay or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction.

How is rotavirus infection treated?
For most cases in healthy individuals the illness is self-limiting lasting only a few days. Drinking enough water or other fluids is very important to avoid dehydration. In cases of severe dehydration, hospitalisation may be required.

How do you prevent rotavirus infection?
Thorough hand washing is the best prevention. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, changing nappies, and before and after preparing or serving food.

Wash your hands when entering and leaving a healthcare facility or day-care setting.

People ill with rotavirus-like symptoms should not handle food or care for others until they are symptom free for 48 hours.

Infected children should be excluded from day-care facilities until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

Is there a vaccine?
Yes, rotavirus vaccine is now part of the childhood immunisation schedule. All babies born on or after 1 October 2016 will be offered the rotavirus vaccine. 

Updated: 28 November 2016