Health Department

Rotavirus: One Mean Stomach Bug!


Article by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director

March 5, 2013

With us being in the midst of winter, and spring quickly approaching; it is a great time to discuss rotavirus. Rotavirus causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines and is commonly found in infants. It is most common between the months of December- June.

Prior to the rotavirus vaccine, the virus was responsible for more than 400,000 doctor visits; more than 200,000 emergency room visits; 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations; and 20 to 60 deaths in children younger than 5 years of age each year in the United States. In many cases, children with rotavirus cannot drink enough liquids to replace the fluids lost from having diarrhea or throwing up many times a day. This can lead to severe dehydration and hospitalization.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide. Unfortunately, it is also highly contagious and very easily spread. Rotavirus is in the stool (feces) of people who are infected with the virus. It is spread by hands, diapers, or objects like toys, changing tables, or doorknobs that have a small amount of the stool on them.

Once a person has been exposed to rotavirus, it takes about 2 days for symptoms to appear. Symptoms include- fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. When infected, these symptoms may last anywhere from 3-8 days. While this virus is primarily found in young children, adults can also be infected. Within adults the virus is noticeably milder. Once infected, the most important treatment is to stay hydrated.

Rotavirus is a tough virus to kill; the virus itself can live on objects for several days unless it is killed by a disinfectant. It is very hard to prevent rotavirus with just hand washing and cleaning with a disinfectant. While it may not kill the virus completely, hand washing is still an important step in prevention and contamination. Rotavirus is commonly spread within families, hospitals, and child care centers.

With rotavirus being such a tough disease, you may be wondering how to fend it off. Two rotavirus vaccines are available: Rotateq and Rotarix. Both vaccines are given by mouth, and are 85 to 95 percent effective at preventing severe rotavirus disease in infants and young children.

The rotavirus vaccine can be given as early as 6 weeks of age. For both vaccine brands, babies get a second dose at 4 months. A third dose of RotaTeq is given at 6 months. For optimal results, vaccines must be given before 15 weeks of age.

For more information on rotavirus, visit or contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.