Rotavirus is one of the most common intestinal infections. The virus affects all age groups, although children between 6 and 24 months are most severely affected. By age three, all children have had a rotavirus infection. Although most bouts of infection can be handled at home, rotavirus is responsible for about 60,000 hospitalizations each year.
Transmission of the Virus
Rotavirus is very contagious. Even before symptoms appear, a person with rotavirus can infect others with the virus. It is spread through contact with stool of an infected person through the fecal-oral route. This means that hands and/or objects (clothing, railings, toys, etc.) contaminated with the virus from stool are put into the mouth. Although you may not see stool on clothing or hands or other objects, the rotavirus may be present.
The incubation period for rotavirus is about 2 days. This means that the child is infected with the virus for about two days before symptoms appear. Children with a rotavirus infection may have one or more symptoms. The most common symptom is frequent, watery, explosive diarrhea in large quantities. The diarrhea is usually dark green in color and foul smelling, with no blood. The child may also experience nausea, vomiting, fever, and/or abdominal cramping. The symptoms usually last for 3-8 days.
Loss of a lot of body fluids through diarrhea or vomiting can lead to dehydration and an alteration in the body’s salt levels. Signs of dehydration include irritability, thirst, restlessness, lethargy (lack of energy), sunken eyes, a dry mouth and tongue, and dry skin. An easily noticeable sign of dehydration in young children is a decrease in urination (fewer or no wet diapers or decreased number of trips to the bathroom).
A moderately or severely dehydrated child may be hospitalized to receive intravenous (IV) fluids. IV fluids bring the body’s fluid and salt levels back to normal.
Because rotavirus is very contagious, a child admitted to the hospital with rotavirus is in isolation, specifically contact isolation. The surfaces of the room are considered infected with the rotavirus. The care provider wears a gown when having direct contact with the patient to prevent his or her clothing from coming in contact with the virus, which could then be transmitted to others. If a care provider is in the room not having physical contact with the patient (weighing diapers, checking IV setting, etc.), gloves alone may be appropriate.
As mentioned earlier, about 100% of children will have rotavirus at some time, most by age 3. Total prevention is impossible because of its widespread nature. The best way to limit the spread of rotavirus is through frequent and thorough hand washing. This cannot be overemphasized! Hands should be washed after each diaper change and before eating, at minimum. Antibacterial foam is located in each patient room and may also be used to prevent the spread of rotavirus. It is wise to limit the number of visitors due to the virus' contagious nature. Other children should be kept away from the infected child until the diarrhea has resolved. Toys may be brought into the patient’s room from the playroom but must remain there until the patient is discharged. We ask that the child remain in the room at all times. If a family member staying with the child needs something outside of the room, please call your nurse using the call light so that she can bring it to you. We appreciate your cooperation in helping to prevent the spread of rotavirus during your hospital stay.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)