About Rotavirus

Key points

  • Rotavirus commonly causes severe watery diarrhea and vomiting in infants and young children.
  • Children may become dehydrated and need to be hospitalized and can even die.
  • Protect your child with rotavirus vaccine.
Baby resting on parent's shoulder.

What it is

Rotavirus causes common symptoms like watery diarrhea and vomiting, especially in children. There is no specific medicine to treat rotavirus infection, but your doctor may recommend medicine to treat the symptoms.

Rotavirus vaccine is the best way to protect your child against rotavirus disease.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of rotavirus usually start about 2 days after a person is exposed to the virus. Vomiting and watery diarrhea can last 3 to 8 days.

Most common symptoms

  • Severe watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain


Additional symptoms may include loss of appetite and dehydration (loss of body fluids). This can be especially dangerous for infants and young children. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Decreased urination
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Crying with few or no tears
  • Unusual sleepiness or fussiness

Who is at risk

Rotavirus disease is most common in infants and young children. However, older children and adults, including people with weakened immune systems, can also get sick from rotavirus. Adults who get rotavirus disease tend to have milder symptoms.

How it spreads

Rotavirus spreads easily among young children‎

Infants and young children can spread rotavirus to family members and other people with whom they have close contact. Children are most likely to get rotavirus in the winter and spring (January through June).

People who are infected with rotavirus shed (pass) the virus in their stool (poop). This is how the virus gets into the environment and can infect other people.

You can get rotavirus if you get virus particles in your mouth by:

  • Putting your unwashed hands that are contaminated with poop into your mouth.
  • Touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then putting your fingers in your mouth.
  • Eating contaminated food.

When people are contagious

People shed (pass) rotavirus the most and are more likely to infect others when:

  • They have symptoms.
  • During the first 3 days after they recover.

People with rotavirus can also infect others before they have symptoms.


Rotavirus vaccination is the best way to protect your child from rotavirus disease. Good hygiene like handwashing and cleanliness are important, but are not enough to control the spread of the disease.

Children who are not vaccinated usually have more severe symptoms the first time they get rotavirus disease. Vaccinated children are less likely to get sick from rotavirus. For example:

  • About 9 out of 10 who get the vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus disease.
  • About 7 out of 10 children will be protected from rotavirus disease of any severity.

Treatment and recovery

There is no specific medicine to treat rotavirus infection, but your healthcare provider may recommend medicine to treat the symptoms. Antibiotics will not help because they fight bacteria, not viruses.

Watch for dehydration

Since rotavirus disease can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, it can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids).

Drink plenty of liquids

The best way to protect against dehydration is to drink plenty of liquids. You can get oral rehydration solutions over the counter in U.S. food and drug stores. These are most helpful for mild dehydration.

Seek medical care for severe dehydration

Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids that patients receive directly through their veins.

If you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, contact your doctor. Infants and young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses are most at risk of dehydration.

Getting vaccinated

Two rotavirus vaccines are currently licensed for infants in the United States:

  • RotaTeq® is given in three doses at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months
  • Rotarix® is given in two doses at ages 2 months and 4 months
Girl receiving rotavirus vaccine
Both vaccines are given by putting drops in the child's mouth.

When to vaccinate your child

The first dose of either vaccine should be given before a child is 15 weeks of age. Children should receive all doses of rotavirus vaccine before they turn 8 months old.

Children can get rotavirus more than once‎

Children, even those who are vaccinated, may get infected and sick from rotavirus more than once. That is because neither natural infection with rotavirus nor vaccination provides full protection from future infections.