Rotavirus in Young Children

Sick Boy with thermometer in his mouth
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Rotovirus (or Rotavirus) is a common viral infection among young children. It is the most common cause of diarrhea in U.S. children and is a leading cause of death among children in developing countries. The virus works by attacking the lining of the small intestine, causing often copious loss of fluids and electrolytes. The virus is spread through oral contact with fecal material and is common in child care environments.

While some medications may be prescribed to help treat symptoms such as nausea, there is currently no drug that is prescribed to treat the virus itself. Antibiotics are not effective since it is a viral infection as opposed to a bacterial infection. There was some success with a vaccine called RotaShield, but many children suffered ill effects from the vaccine and it has been subsequently pulled from the market. Two other vaccines are currently being given with success. One is called RotaTeq and the other is called Rotarix. Talk to your healthcare provider about possible prevention of rotavirus with these vaccines.


The symptoms of this illness include diarrhea, low-grade fever, vomiting, and nausea. These symptoms usually last for 3-10 days. But even if the symptoms have subsided or improved, you should consider your child contagious for 10-12 days after the onset of diarrhea.


Treatment at home includes plenty of rest and use of an oral electrolyte replacement solution such as Pedialyte. Gatorade and other sports drinks are not recommended as they contain high amounts of sugars that can further irritate the intestinal tract. Begin giving Pedialyte at the first sign of loose stools or vomiting. Nursing mothers should continue nursing in addition to giving Pedialyte.

The biggest danger with this illness is dehydration. Signs of severe dehydration include irritability, lethargy, sunken eyes, sunken soft spot (in infants), dry mouth and tongue, less frequent bathroom trips and dry diapers for more than a couple of hours. If you notice these signs, it is imperative that you contact your physician immediately. If your child is hospitalized, IV rehydration is usually given and can save your child's life.


To help prevent the spread of this illness, be sure to wash your hands frequently and sanitize any surface that you use for diapering. If your child attends childcare, check to make sure that proper handwashing and sanitation procedures are being followed, which includes washing hands for those who are potty training after each bathroom use.

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