What’s Rotavirus?

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Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain in children. It is spread through feces and can lead to dehydration, hospitalization, and even death. Proper hand washing and a new vaccine called RotaTeq can help prevent its spread.

Rotavirus is the most common culprit of severe diarrhea in children. The name comes from the Latin rota, meaning “wheel”, due to the virus’s similarities to a wheel under a microscope. Rotavirus is spread in the feces of an infected person. Babies are most often affected, due to their propensity for touching the diaper area and mouth. Also, caregivers of young children can inadvertently spread rotavirus through improper hand washing after diaper changes or cleaning.

Rotavirus is a force to be reckoned with. It is highly contagious and accounts for nearly three million cases of diarrhea in the United States each year. Approximately 55,000 American children are hospitalized each year with serious infections, and sadly, rotavirus claims the lives of nearly 600,000 children worldwide each year. The vast majority of children are exposed to rotavirus by the age of five.

The infection is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain, usually lasting three to eight days. Rotavirus can also be accompanied by a cough, runny nose, and fever. The incubation period is about two to three days. Most rotavirus cases occur during the months of November through April, and hot spots for exposure tend to be day care centers and children’s hospitals.

The most important thing to watch out for is dehydration, which can progress rapidly, especially in children. Watch out for thirst, sunken eyes, and dry diapers, or fewer trips to the bathroom for potty-trained kids. A serious rotavirus infection called rotavirus gastroenteritis can require hospitalization. If the infection progresses to severe dehydration, a child will usually receive intravenous (IV) fluids at the hospital. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will do a blood test to rule out a bacterial infection.

If your child has a mild case of rotavirus, they can be treated with extra fluids at home. Fruit juices and sodas should be avoided because they can exacerbate diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, given as directed or under the supervision of a doctor, will help rebalance your child’s fluids. Small, frequent meals help treat nausea and diarrhea. If your child shows signs of dehydration, see a doctor right away.

Since it’s impossible to keep a child’s hands clean all the time, even the cleanest homes get a visit from rotavirus at some point. Parents need to remember that proper hand washing is essential to prevent the spread of the virus from child to child. RotaTeq, a new rotavirus vaccine, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended for the routine immunization schedule for children by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Immunization Practices Advisory Committee. ). When the CDC officially approves it, babies will receive the vaccine at two, four and six months of age. It is given in liquid form by mouth.
Tests of RotaTeq have shown that the vaccine is 75% effective at preventing rotavirus infection and 98% at preventing serious infections. Some parents may recall a failed rotavirus vaccine that was pulled from the market in 1999 due to a possible serious complication called intussusception, a severe intestinal obstruction in young children. RotaTeq has not been shown to carry this risk.

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