Rotavirus in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration, primarily in children under five. It’s the leading cause of severe diarrhea in this age group, but thanks to widespread vaccination, cases have significantly declined. This article will explore what causes rotavirus, the symptoms to watch for, and how to ensure your child recovers comfortably.

Causes of Rotavirus

Rotavirus spreads through contact with fecal matter infected with the virus. This can happen when a child comes into contact with the stool (poop) of an infected person and then touches their mouth. Rotavirus is also very durable and can live on surfaces for days. Common ways children become infected include:

  • Not washing hands properly after changing diapers
  • Sharing contaminated toys or objects
  • Close contact with an infected person, such as coughing or sneezing

Symptoms of Rotavirus

Rotavirus infection typically follows a predictable pattern:

  • Day 1-2: No symptoms, or mild fever and runny nose
  • Day 2-4: Severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, and fever
  • Day 5-7: Gradual improvement in symptoms, with diarrhea lasting the longest

Here’s a breakdown of the common symptoms:

  • Watery diarrhea: This is the hallmark symptom, often described as greenish or yellowish and lasting for several days.
  • Vomiting: This can be frequent, especially in the early stages of the illness.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever is common, but it can sometimes be higher.
  • Dehydration: Because of diarrhea and vomiting, children can lose significant fluids and electrolytes, leading to dehydration. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, decreased urination, sunken eyes, and fatigue.

Reassurance and Treatment

Rotavirus is usually an unpleasant but self-limiting illness. Most children recover fully within a week with proper care. The focus of treatment is on preventing dehydration:

  • Fluids: Offer plenty of fluids like breast milk, formula, or an oral rehydration solution (ORS) recommended by your doctor. ORS helps replenish electrolytes lost due to diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Rest: Encourage your child to get plenty of rest.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Over-the-counter medications for fever or pain may be recommended by your doctor.

Seek Medical Attention If:

  • Your child shows severe signs of dehydration, such as lethargy, sunken eyes, or no urination for several hours.
  • Bloody stools are present.
  • Vomiting is persistent and uncontrollable.
  • Fever is very high (above 104°F or 40°C).
  • Symptoms worsen or persist after several days.

Preventing Rotavirus

The best defense against rotavirus is vaccination. The CDC recommends all children receive the rotavirus vaccine according to the recommended schedule. Rotavirus vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from rotavirus.


Rotavirus is a common childhood illness, but with awareness of the causes, symptoms, and  prevention methods, you can help your child recover quickly and avoid serious complications. Remember, vaccination is the best way to protect your child from rotavirus. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, always consult your pediatrician.

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