Rotavirus

Rotavirus is one of the most common causes of diarrhea and infection in children. Almost all children become infected by the age of two. Most children get the virus more than once then build up a defense to the virus (immune).

This virus is easily spread by stool from an infected child. It is common for a child in a day care center or school to get the virus. Children get the germs on their hands and then put their hands in their mouth or touch other things like toys, doorknobs, or sinks. People who work in the daycare center can also pass the virus if they change a dirty diaper but don’t wash their hands.

In the U.S., rotavirus infections usually peak in the fall months in the Southwest and spread to the Northeast by spring, so infections are most common during the winter months from November to May. Infections, however, can happen anytime of the year.

It usually takes two days for symptoms to show up. Vomiting is often the first symptom, then a fever and watery diarrhea. Most children have a watery diarrhea for 4 to 8 days. In some children it could last for a few weeks. Diarrhea, especially when it happens with vomiting, can cause a child to lose too much water (dehydration). Signs of dehydration (depending on the age of the child) include:

  • No tears
  • No urine in over 8 hours (or over 12 hours if child is more than 1 year old)
  • Dark urine
  • Child is unusually fussy or drowsy
  • Child is extremely thirsty
  • Child’s eyes look sunken
  • Infant’s soft spot on top of head becomes sunken
  • Dry, sticky mouth

Contact your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if your child has dehydration.

Other signs that require taking your child to the emergency room immediately include:

  • Fever over 103 degrees F (orally), or 104 degrees F (rectally)
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood in child’s stool or vomit
  • Child’s poop is black
  • Child’s vomit is green or black
  • Child is difficult to wake up or seems confused
  • Child will not drink
  • Other symptoms that concern you as a parent

Diagnosis/Testing

The doctor can usually tell if the child has diarrhea and other symptoms in the winter or early spring. A stool sample can be taken and tested to make sure that it is the rotavirus.

Treatment

Make the child comfortable and prevent dehydration. DO NOT give your child anti-diarrhea or over-the-counter medicines unless you first check with the doctor. Be sure the child is drinking enough water, or drinks like Gatorade, that help replace fluids. Do not give a baby or young child this type of drink because they do not have the proper balance of nutrients and electrolytes for small children. The doctor may also suggest giving the child yogurt or probiotics to help balance the natural organisms that are in the intestines.

See our Fall 2009 Issue newsletter for more information.