Diarrhea Home > Cause of Rotavirus

People become infected with rotavirus in various ways. The most common cause of rotavirus infection is contact with contaminated stool or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one's mouth. Transmission and infection can differ slightly among children and adults.

What Causes Rotavirus?

As you might suspect, the cause of a rotavirus infection is the rotavirus itself. Rotavirus is a double-stranded RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus that is part of the Reoviridae family of viruses. Because rotavirus is the name of the virus, people commonly refer to a rotavirus infection as:
Rotavirus is the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and young children, both in the United States and worldwide.

How Is the Virus Transmitted?

Large amounts of rotavirus are shed in the stool of infected people. This contaminated stool can easily spread to hands and objects. Because rotavirus is stable in the environment -- meaning the virus can live for a long time outside of a host -- rotavirus transmission can occur quite easily through the following methods:
  • Ingestion of contaminated food or water
  • Direct contact with contaminated surfaces.
Children can spread rotavirus both before and after they become sick with diarrhea. They can sometimes pass the virus to other members of the family and to close contacts.
Rotavirus can also be transmitted to adults. An adult rotavirus infection is less common and usually less severe. In adults, infection is most often seen in:
  • Family members of affected children
  • Older individuals
  • People with conditions or medications that decrease the function of the immune system, such as people with HIV, AIDS, or cancer.
Once the rotavirus has entered the body, it travels to the small intestine, where it begins to multiply. Approximately two days later, rotavirus symptoms can begin. This period between infection and the beginning of symptoms is known as the "rotavirus incubation period."
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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