Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among
children, resulting in the hospitalization of approximately 55,000
children each year in the United States and the death of over
600,000 children annually worldwide. The incubation period for
rotavirus disease is approximately 2 days.
What are the symptoms?
The disease is characterized by vomiting and watery diarrhea for
3 - 8 days, and fever and abdominal pain occur frequently. Immunity
after infection is incomplete, but repeat infections tend to be
less severe than the original infection.
How is it transmitted?
The primary mode of transmission is fecal-oral, although small
amounts of the virus have been found in respiratory tract
secretions and other body fluids. Transmission can occur through
ingestion of contaminated water or food and contact with
In the United States and other countries with a temperate
climate, the disease has a winter seasonal pattern, with annual
epidemics occurring from November to April. The highest rates of
illness occur among infants and young children, and most children
in the United States are infected by 2 years of age. Adults can
also be infected, though disease tends to be mild.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis may be made by rapid antigen detection of rotavirus in
What is the treatment for rotavirus?
For persons with healthy immune systems, rotavirus
gastroenteritis is a self-limited illness, lasting for only a few
days. Treatment is nonspecific and consists of oral rehydration
therapy to prevent dehydration. About one in 40 children with
rotavirus gastroenteritis will require hospitalization for
What has been done to prevent rotavirus?
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a live
virus vaccine (Rotashield) for use in children. However, the
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended
that Rotashield no longer be recommended for infants in the United
States because of data that indicated a strong association between
Rotashield and bowel obstruction among some infants during the
first 1-2 weeks following vaccination.
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, June 1999
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