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Pediatric Basics


Updated June 28, 2008

Although most parents are not as familiar with the name rotavirus as they are with other viruses, like the cold or the flu, rotavirus is a very common cause of infections in children. In fact, rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in young children and is often responsible for outbreaks of diarrhea in daycares.

Rotavirus is most common during the winter and early spring months, often during flu and RSV season.

Rotavirus Symptoms

Children usually develop symptoms of rotavirus infections about 1 to 3 days after being exposed to someone else who is sick with a rotavirus infection (the incubation period). These symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhea (without blood or mucus), fever, and abdominal pain. Although the fever and vomiting typically only last a few days, the diarrhea can often last at least 3 to 8 days or longer.

Diagnosis of Rotavirus

Although a rapid antigen stool test is available, the diagnosis of a rotavirus infection is typically made clinically, which means without testing and based on your child's symptoms, especially if rotavirus infections are going around in your community.

Testing for rotavirus is most helpful to eliminate other treatable causes of diarrhea that are caused by bacteria and parasites or if the diarrhea is lasting longer than expected.

Rotavirus Treatments

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure or treatment for the actual rotavirus infection. Instead, treatments are targeted at preventing and treating dehydration.

What You Need To Know

  • Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children, leading to about 3 million cases of diarrhea, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 20 to 40 deaths in the United States each year. Rotavirus infections also lead to the death of over 600,000 children in the world each year.

  • Children do not develop complete immunity to rotavirus infections, of which there are several subtypes, so can get infected more than once, although repeat infections are usually milder than the first one.

  • A rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, is helping to decrease the number of rotavirus infections that children get.

  • Rotavirus isn't the only virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting in children. The norovirus, Norwalk virus, adenovirus, and many other viruses can also cause gastroenteritis. Bacteria and parasites can also cause diarrhea in children.

  • Since rotavirus is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, it makes not sharing cups, glasses, etc., washing toys, and strict handwashing essential, especially in daycare settings. And since kids can excrete rotavirus for several days before and for up to 10 days after their diarrhea begins, it is important to follow these precautions all of the time and not just when kids are sick if you really want to prevent rotavirus infections.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Infectious Diseases. Rotavirus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Infectious Diseases. Viral Gastroenteritis.

Gershon: Krugman's Infectious Diseases of Children, 11th ed., Copyright 2004

Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed., Copyright 2004 Saunders, An Imprint of Elsevier

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