What is a rotavirus infection? The most common cause of serious diarrhoea in infants and young children, rotavirus is a highly contagious infection. Read on to understand more about rotavirus infection causes, symptoms and treatment.

Rotavirus infection is most commonly seen in infants and young children.

Rotavirus Infection Causes and Risk Factors

There are different strains of rotavirus, and repeat infections with different viral strains may occur in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children. The virus enters the body through the mouth and infects the intestinal lining. It is highly contagious and can spread from person to person via contaminated surfaces, hands and objects. The virus is also shed in high amounts in the stools of an infected individual. 

Signs and Symptoms of Rotavirus Infection

Symptoms are seen within one to three days of exposure to the rotavirus, and include:
Watery diarrhoea
Abdominal pain
Loss of appetite

Symptoms may be mild or not occur at all with repeat infections. Adults can also be affected sometimes, but the resulting illness is usually mild. Rotavirus infection is usually self-limiting and resolves on its own after three to nine days of symptoms.

Complications from Rotavirus Infection

In infants and young children, rotavirus infection can lead to complications such as severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This is due to ongoing loss of body fluids caused by persistent diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. Parents should be aware of the symptoms of dehydration, which include:
Cool skin
Sunken eyes
Dry mouth, extreme thirst sensation
Dizziness when standing up

Severe dehydration, especially in young children, can often be fatal, hence it is important to recognise and treat dehydration quickly.

Rotavirus Diagnosis

Diagnosis is made by stool examination to identify and confirm rotavirus as the cause of the diarrhoeal illness.

Rotavirus Infection Treatment

There is no specific medication to treat rotavirus infection. The infection is usually self-limiting and lasts a few days in those with good immunity. Treatment generally consists of increased oral fluid intake and oral rehydration salts to prevent dehydration.

Children with severe cases of dehydration may need to be hospitalised in order to replace the lost fluids and salts intraveneously.

Prevention Against Rotavirus Infection

Although vaccination is the best prevention against rotavirus infection in infants and young children, good personal hygiene such as handwashing is also important in controlling the spread of the infection.

The rotavirus vaccine prevents diarrhoea and vomiting caused by the rotavirus only. It does not prevent diarrhoea and vomiting caused by other germs.

Two different rotavirus vaccines are currently used on infants in Singapore. Both vaccines are given orally (by mouth), and differ in the number of doses given. The vaccines may be given at the same time as other childhood vaccines. Discuss with your doctor if you are considering immunisation against rotavirus.


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