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Diseases > Rotavirus
Rotavirus Diarrhea

Questions answered on this page:

  1. What is rotavirus?
  2. What are the symptoms of rotavirus disease?
  3. How many children are affected by rotavirus each year?
  4. How severe is rotavirus disease?
  5. How is rotavirus spread?
  6. Can a person get rotavirus gastroenteritis more than once?
  7. How is rotavirus gastroenteritis treated?
  8. Where can I get a printable copy of more information? (.pdf) (also called a Vaccine Information Sheet)

  1. What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus (germ) that causes severe diarrhea, usually with fever and vomiting. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis (diarrhea) in infants and young children in the United States (U.S.). Worldwide, rotavirus is a major cause of childhood deaths. Rotavirus can cause children to lose body fluids very quickly and is especially dangerous for children less than two years of age. Children between 3 and 35 months of age have the highest risk for getting the infection. Rotavirus causes seasonal peaks of gastroenteritis from November to May each year.

  1. What are the symptoms of rotavirus disease?

Rotavirus gastroenteritis usually starts with fever, an upset stomach, and vomiting, followed by diarrhea. The watery diarrhea can be mild to severe and generally will last for 3 to 9 days. Severe diarrhea can lead to a dangerous depletion of body fluids called dehydration, which can result in death if untreated. Virtually all children become infected with rotavirus in the first 3 to 5 years of life, but severe diarrhea and dehydration occur mainly among children aged 3 to 35 months.


  1. How many children are affected by rotavirus each year?

In the U.S., rotavirus is responsible for approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of all diarrhea among children less than 5 years of age. However, because rotavirus causes more severe diarrhea than other pathogens, it accounts for a greater proportion of severe diarrhea cases (e.g., 40%-50% of diarrhea hospitalizations). Rotavirus accounts for more than 500,000 physician visits and approximately 50,000 hospitalizations each year among children less than 5 years of age. An estimated one in 200,000 children with rotavirus diarrhea die from the complications of the infection.

  1. How severe is rotavirus disease?

In the first 5 years of life, four out of five children in the United States will develop rotavirus diarrhea, one in seven will require a clinic or emergency room visit, one in 78 will require hospitalization and it is estimated that one in 200,000 children die from rotavirus diarrhea.


  1. How is rotavirus spread?

Rotavirus is very easy to catch. Large amounts of rotavirus are shed in the stool of infected persons and rotavirus is easily spread on contaminated hands and objects. 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 close contacts. In the U.S., rotavirus infections can cause diarrhea in adults caring for children, in the elderly, and in adults who are traveling, but less often than in children.

  1. Can a person get rotavirus gastroenteritis more than once?

There are a number of different strains of rotavirus than cause gastroenteritis in humans; four strains are common in the United States. Children can be infected with rotavirus more than once, but usually the first infection is most severe and each subsequent infection causes less severe disease.


  1. How is rotavirus gastroenteritis treated?

Giving special fluids by mouth (oral rehydration therapy) is the most effective treatment. Oral rehydration prevents most dehydration. Parents of children with severe diarrhea should start oral rehydration and take their child for medical evaluation. Special fluids used for oral rehydration can be found in most pharmacies or grocery stores and can be purchased without a prescription.

  1. Is there a vaccine to prevent rotavirus gastroenteritis?

Consult CDC's Advisory Committee Recommendation of a New Vaccine to Prevent Rotavirus in CDC's Press Release and Questions and Answers about Rotavirus. Also, the MMWR dated August 11, 2006 (Volume 55): Prevention of Rotavirus Gastroenteritis Among Infants and Children.


Suggested Reading

  1. Glass RI, Kilgore PE, Holman RC, et al. The epidemiology of rotavirus diarrhea in the United States: surveillance and estimates of disease burden. J Infect Dis 1996;174:Suppl 1:S5-S11.
  2. Murphy TV, Gargiullo PM, Massoudi MS, et al. Intussusception among infants given an oral rotavirus vaccine. N Engl J Med 2001;344:564-72.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Practice parameter: the management of acute gastroenteritis in young children. Pediatrics 1996; 97:424-35.

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This page last modified on April 10, 2007
This page last reviewed on April 17, 2006


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