Rotavirus and Drinking Water from Private Wells

What is rotavirus?

Rotaviruses are wheel-shaped (“rota-“) viruses that cause intestinal illnesses and are the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children. Before introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in 2006, about 55,000 children were hospitalized from rotavirus infections each year in the United States. Worldwide, more than 600,000 children die from rotavirus infections annually. However, most of these cases are not caused by drinking contaminated water.

For more information about rotavirus illness and treatment, please visit CDC’s rotavirus website.

Where and how does rotavirus get into drinking water?

Rotaviruses are found in every part of the United States and throughout the world. The virus may be found in water sources such as private wells that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans. Waste can enter the water through different ways, including sewage overflows, sewage systems that are not working properly, and polluted storm water runoff. Wells may be more vulnerable to such contamination after flooding, particularly if the wells are shallow, have been dug or bored, or have been submerged by floodwater for long periods of time.

How can I find out whether there is rotavirus in my drinking water?

If you suspect a problem and your drinking water comes from a private well, you may contact your state certification officerexternal icon for a list of laboratories in your area that will perform tests on drinking water for a fee.

How do I remove rotavirus from my drinking water?

To kill or inactivate rotavirus, bring your water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes) Water should then be allowed to cool, stored in a clean sanitized container with a tight cover, and refrigerated. Because of the small size of the virus, using a point-of-use filter will not remove it from water.

You may also disinfect your well. Contact your local health department for recommended procedures. Remember to have your well water tested regularly, at least once a year, after disinfection to make sure the problem does not recur.