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Patient education: Rotavirus infection (The Basics)

Patient education: Rotavirus infection (The Basics)

What is rotavirus? — Rotavirus is a virus (germ) that can infect the intestines and cause diarrhea and vomiting. When a virus infects the intestines and causes diarrhea and vomiting, doctors call it "viral gastroenteritis." In children, rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis.

Children can get a rotavirus infection if they:

Touch an infected person or a surface with the virus on it, and then don't wash their hands

Eat foods or drink liquids with the virus in them. If people with a rotavirus infection don't wash their hands, they can spread it to food or liquid they touch.

Adults can also get a rotavirus infection, but it is much more common in children.

What are the symptoms of a rotavirus infection? — A rotavirus infection commonly causes:


Diarrhea that is watery but not bloody


If your child has vomiting or diarrhea, their body can lose too much water. Doctors call this "dehydration." Symptoms of dehydration can include:

Fewer wet diapers, or dark yellow or brown urine

No tears when a child cries

A dry mouth or cracked lips

Eyes that look sunken in the face

A "sunken fontanel" (in babies) – A fontanel is a gap between the bones in a baby's skull. When babies are dehydrated, the fontanel on the top of their head can look or feel caved in.

When should I call my child's doctor or nurse? — Call your child's doctor or nurse if your child:

Has any symptoms of dehydration

Has diarrhea that lasts more than a few days

Has vomiting that lasts more than 1 day

Vomits up blood, has bloody diarrhea, or has severe belly pain

Hasn't been willing to drink anything for a few hours, or can't keep fluids down

Hasn't needed to urinate in the past 6 to 8 hours (in older children), or hasn't had a wet diaper for 4 to 6 hours (in babies and young children)

Is urinating much more than usual

Will my child need tests? — Maybe. The doctor or nurse should be able to tell if your child has a rotavirus infection by learning about their symptoms and doing an exam.

They might also do:

Lab tests on a sample of your child's bowel movement

Blood or urine tests to check for dehydration

How is a rotavirus infection treated? — Most children do not need any treatment, because their symptoms will get better on their own. But it's important to make sure your child drinks enough fluids so that they don't get dehydrated. You'll know that you are giving your child enough fluids when their urine looks pale yellow or clear, or when your baby has a normal amount of wet diapers.

To prevent dehydration, you can:

Give your baby or young child an "oral rehydration solution" (such as Pedialyte). You can buy this in a grocery store or pharmacy. If your child is vomiting, you can try to give them a few teaspoons of fluid every few minutes. In general, oral rehydration solutions work better than juice, because juice sometimes makes diarrhea worse. But you can also try giving your child apple juice mixed with an equal amount of water.

Continue to breastfeed your baby, if they breastfeed

Do not give your child medicines to stop diarrhea (anti-diarrhea medicines). These medicines can make the infection last longer.

If your child has a severe infection and gets dehydrated, they might need to be treated in the hospital. In the hospital, the doctor might give your child fluids through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an "IV."

Can a rotavirus infection be prevented? — Yes. Doctors recommend that all babies get a vaccine to prevent the rotavirus infection. Vaccines can prevent certain serious or deadly infections. There are 2 main types of rotavirus vaccines. Depending on the type your baby gets, they will need either 2 or 3 doses of the vaccine.

If your child has a rotavirus infection, you can prevent spreading the infection by:

Washing your hands with soap and water after you change your child's diaper

Not changing your child's diaper near where you prepare food

Putting diapers in a sealed bag before you throw them out

Cleaning the diaper changing area with alcohol or with a bleach and water mixture

More on this topic

Patient education: Viral gastroenteritis in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Dehydration in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Food poisoning (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for babies and children age 0 to 6 years (The Basics)

Patient education: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Nausea and vomiting in infants and children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Foodborne illness (food poisoning) (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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