Can Adults Get Rotavirus?

Man with stomach ache
Getty Images/Paul Bradbury

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that is the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis (stomach flu) among infants and children. Adults can be infected with rotavirus, although they usually have milder symptoms. Even if not infected, adults can easily spread the virus to others if they are caring for a child who has rotavirus.

Rotavirus and Adults

Anyone can catch rotavirus, at any age. In general, adult cases of rotavirus are relatively mild. However, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible than the rest of the population. You may encounter different strains of rotavirus when traveling be infected by them.

Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms of rotavirus in both children and adults. Typically, rotavirus lasts just a few days, but it's very uncomfortable. Dehydration is the greatest risk for adults, young children, and infants with rotavirus.

Self-Care for Adults With Rotavirus

Over-the-counter diarrhea medications may be helpful, but often they have little effect. Focus on keeping yourself hydrated. Drink water and consider oral rehydration fluids or electrolyte-containing sports drinks. If you feel your stomach can manage it, eat something. Start out with crackers or toast, since these are generally the best-tolerated foods.

If possible, stay away from other people until you are really feeling better. Rotavirus is very contagious, so it's easy to infect workmates, friends, or family members.

When to Call Your Doctor

Most people can manage rotavirus on their own, but in some cases professional care is necessary. Do call your health care provider if your fever increases or if you feel like you cannot keep down any water.

Call your health provider immediately or go to a hospital emergency department if you experience signs of serious dehydration such as:

  • Very little or no urine
  • Confusion
  • A weak or rapid heartbeat
  • Very dry mouth
  • Coolness in your arms and legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking or standing

Preventing the Spread of Rotavirus

Rotavirus vaccine is recommended for most infants and it is effective in reducing the risk of severe disease in children and preventing infection. This is a big step in preventing the spread of rotavirus as it's difficult for caregivers to stop the spread from children with the infection to others. It takes only a few of the virus particles to spread the infection and there are millions of them in a drop of feces.

Diligent hand washing is the best way to prevent spread. The chances of contamination are everywhere and rotavirus can survive on your hands for hours and on hard, dry surfaces for days. It is resistant to many cleaning products, including anti-bacterial cleansers. Because of this, it is best for infected children and adults to stay away from child care, schools, work, and other places where they may spread the virus to others in the environment.

For individuals who may be more susceptible, rotavirus is a real concern. It is best to stay away from anyone with rotavirus if you are particularly sensitive to stomach upset, are elderly, or have a condition that may reduce your immune response.

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