Rotavirus In Children: Signs, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

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An infection by rotavirus in children causes recurrent vomiting and diarrhea. Each year, it affects more than 125 million infants and children and results in around 600,000 child deaths (1).

Rotavirus is also the major cause of diarrhea among children and babies in developing countries. Though most children recover in a week with home care, severe cases may require hospitalization.

Read this article to know about the symptoms, causes, complications, treatment, and prevention of rotavirus infection in children.

Signs And Symptoms Of Rotavirus Infection

Once a child contracts rotavirus, it may take approximately two days (incubation period) to develop gastroenteritis. Rotavirus infection may often start with a mild fever followed by digestive symptoms lasting three to eight days (2).

The common symptoms of rotavirus in children may include (3)

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Fever
  • Frequent watery diarrhea, often green or brown and foul-smelling

Increased watery diarrhea could cause dehydration due to rapid fluid loss. The following signs of dehydration are usually seen in children with rotavirus infection.

  • Lethargy and sleepiness
  • Dry and cool skin
  • No tears while crying
  • Reduced urination
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Extreme thirst
  • Sunken soft spot in younger children

Severe electrolyte and water loss from the body can lead to shock and convulsions in children. Talking to a pediatrician and administering oral rehydration from the initial days of rotavirus diarrhea may help prevent severe dehydration in most children (3).

Causes And Risk Factors For Rotavirus Infection In Children

Rotaviruses are double-stranded RNA viruses from the family Reoviridae. This virus can cause gastroenteritis in children and adults. The rotavirus has several strains, and children may contract the infection with a similar strain or new strain each time (4).

Rotavirus spreads through the fecal-oral route. Children may contract the infection from contaminated food or water and when they touch their mouths with unwashed hands (3).

The virus is highly contagious, and an infected person may shed large amounts of the virus in their excreta. An infected person can transmit the virus to others by touching surfaces such as doorknobs, objects, or toys or not washing their hands properly after bowel movements.

Outbreaks in childcare centers, households, and school settings are common because rotavirus can live for a long time on surfaces. Therefore, avoiding contact with sick people may reduce the risk of getting the virus.

Children aged three months to 35 months are at an increased risk of contracting the virus. Infection is common in cooler months, and any child around a sick child or adult is at risk of getting rotavirus infection (5).

Diagnosis Of Rotavirus Infection

Rotavirus can be detected in stool specimens of children with gastroenteritis using various techniques such as antigen assays, electron microscopy, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and virus isolation.

Children with rotavirus diarrhea can excrete large amounts of the virus during the acute phase of illness, which is often seen in electron microscopy. However, rotavirus tests are not routinely done in children with gastroenteritis since the test results do not change the treatments (6).

Treatment For Rotavirus In Children

There is no specific medicine for rotavirus infection in children. Therefore, symptomatic treatment and homecare measures are usually recommended. Appropriate oral rehydration therapy can help many children recover at home without complications. However, children with severe diarrhea and dehydration may require intravenous (IV) fluids (7).

In mild cases, adequate water intake is recommended. Doctors may prescribe oral rehydration solutions such as Enfalyte or Pedialyte to cope with fluid and electrolyte loss from the body if diarrhea lasts more than a few days. Ondansetron is prescribed for vomiting if it interferes with oral rehydration therapy.

Antibiotics are not effective since they fight bacteria, not viruses. Antidiarrheal medications are also not recommended for rotavirus infection in children because they may prevent the elimination of the virus from the digestive tract (8).

Home Remedies For Rotavirus Infection

Doctors may recommend the following home remedies to manage rotavirus symptoms in children (9).

  • Give small and frequent meals instead of large meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Use oral rehydration fluids as per recommendations.
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) can be given for fever as per the doctor’s instructions. Do not give aspirin to children with fever.
  • Wash the hands after changing diapers or touching stool.
  • Ensure good rest and sleep at home until they recover.

You may allow your child to go back to school or a childcare center only after recovery. Seek medical care if the symptoms worsen or the child has any signs of dehydration during home treatment.

How To Prevent Rotavirus Infections?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rotavirus vaccines can prevent rotavirus infections in children. About nine out of ten vaccinated children are protected from severe rotavirus illness, and seven out of ten are protected from rotavirus infection of any severity (10) (11).

The following two rotavirus vaccines are approved for young children.

  • Two doses of Rotarix (RV1) at ages two months and four months
  • Three doses of RotaTeq (RV5) at ages two months, four months, and six months

As per recommendations, the first dose of any of these vaccines should be given before 15 weeks of age, and the child should receive all doses by eight months of age. Both of these vaccines are given as oral drops.

Preventing rotavirus infection can be impossible since it is highly contagious. However, washing the hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds before eating and after using the washroom may protect your child from rotavirus infections (12).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long does rotavirus take to go away?

Rotavirus symptoms may last from three to eight days in most children. Infected children can be contagious for approximately 12 days since the infection begins a few days before the onset of symptoms (9).

2. What are the complications of rotavirus?

Rotavirus infection can cause severe diarrhea that leads to dehydration and electrolyte loss. This may further develop into metabolic acidosis if not managed on time. Immunocompromised children can experience prolonged rotavirus gastroenteritis, which causes liver and kidney problems (13).

3. What happens if rotavirus is not treated?

Supportive therapy with fluid and electrolytes is essential to prevent dehydration and further complications. Medications for diarrhea, antivirals, or antibiotics are not recommended to treat rotavirus infection. The infection can be resolved after its course (5).

4. What color is rotavirus poop?

Brown or green color poop is seen in most children during rotavirus infection. Frequent foul-smelling watery diarrhea is the common symptom of rotavirus gastroenteritis (3).

The highly contagious rotavirus infection can be diagnosed through various tests, including RT-PCR. Also, getting timely vaccination may help prevent the rotavirus in children. The virus spreads through the feces or mouth, and there is no specific medicine for this condition. However, the doctor-recommended home remedies, such as drinking sufficient water, taking oral rehydration fluids, and good rest will help manage the symptoms. If the condition worsens or your child continues to be dehydrated despite home remedies, consult the healthcare provider immediately.

Key Pointers

  • Symptoms of rotavirus in children include vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea.
  • The infection is contracted from contaminated water and food, and it is highly contagious.
  • Children aged between three and 35 months old are at a higher risk of getting infected.
  • It can be treated with the help of appropriate rehydration therapy and a few home remedies, including taking proper rest, staying hydrated, and taking small and frequent meals.


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Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more

Dr. Prakhar Nyati

Dr Prakhar Nyati is an eminent pediatrician and neonatologist in Indore. He has done his MBBS and MD Pediatrics from MGM Medical College, MY Hospital and Chacha Nehru Children Hospital, a renowned medical college in central India. A gold medallist in his graduation, Dr. Nyati has deep knowledge about diseases, diagnosis and treatment. He holds teleconsultations for local as well... more