Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and vomiting in people who become infected with it. It is often spread when a person comes in contact with a contaminated surface or ingests contaminated food or water. Infections with this virus are especially common in children under the age of 5. Treatment consists of caring for the symptoms while the body kills the virus.
What Is Rotavirus?
Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe diarrhea, usually with fever and vomiting. It is the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and young children in the United States and worldwide. Rotavirus results in the hospitalization of approximately 55,000 to 70,000 children each year in the United States and the death of over 600,000 children annually worldwide.
Almost all children in the United States are likely to be infected with this virus before their fifth birthday.
Rotaviruses are members of the Reoviridae family of viruses. Rotavirus is a double-stranded RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus. This virus has a characteristic wheel-like appearance when viewed by electron microscopy. The name rotavirus is derived from the Latin word "rota," meaning "wheel" (see Rotavirus Pictures).
There are a number of different strains of rotavirus that cause infections in humans; four strains are common in the United States. Children can be infected with the virus more than once, but usually the first infection is the most severe, and each subsequent infection causes less severe symptoms of the disease.
How Is It Spread?
Large amounts of this virus are shed in the stools of infected people. This contaminated stool can easily spread to hands and objects. Because the virus can live for a long time outside of a host, transmission can then occur quite easily through the following methods:
- Ingestion of contaminated food or water
- Direct contact with contaminated surfaces.
Children can spread the virus both before and after they become sick with diarrhea. They can sometimes pass the virus to other members of the family and to other people with whom they have close contact.
(Click Rotavirus Transmission for more information.)