Rotavirus, as the name implies, is a virus that mostly affects children under the age of five. It is the most common cause of diarrhea in children under five. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly every child is exposed to the virus at least once before the age of five and most often the first exposure occurs before the age of three.
The main symptom of rotavirus is severe diarrhea which can lead to fatal dehydration. Fever and vomiting may also be present. For reasons that are not yet fully understood, infants under 3 months do not show symptoms when they become infected with rotavirus.
Rotavirus spreads very easily from the stool of infected persons to others when they get the virus on their hands or other objects that then touch their mouths. While good hand washing and sanitation may prevent the spread, when it comes to very young children that may not be very effective.Therefore the best preventive measure is to vaccinate children against rotavirus. In India there are two vaccinations available. The first, Rotarix, is given in two doses, and the other one, RotaTeq, is given in three doses. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving the vaccine before the 6th week of life, and for Rotarix, suggests waiting till week 10. A new vaccine was announced on 9 March 2015 by the Indian government which is supposed to cost substantially less.
The rotavirus vaccine is considered to be very effective and in most cases will prevent rotavirus diarrhea.
There are some situations where a child should not get the rotavirus vaccine, including if the child has a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the first dose, if if the child has a deficient immune system or a type of bowel blockage called “intussusception”. It is always best to check with a doctor first before giving a child this or any other vaccine or medication.
Antibiotics will not help against a rotavirus infection and there are no known antiviral drugs either. The biggest concern with a rotavirus infection is that the accompanying diarrhea and vomiting may lead to severe dehydration. Some of the signs of dehydration in a child or infant with diarrhea and vomiting are:
- much less urination
- dry mouth and throat
- dizziness when standing up
- fussiness and irritability
Whether the cause of diarrhea or vomiting is rotavirus or some other illness, in order to prevent dehydration make sure that a child or adult with diarrhea or vomiting gets plenty of liquids. Clean water with oral rehydration salts mixed in is best, but other clear liquids such as apple juice, decaffeinated tea made from tea-bags and without milk, or other drinks that don’t have bubbles may also be given.
In case of severe dehydration the patient will likely require hospitalization so that liquids can be given intravenously (IV).
A research report published in February 2015 indicated that rural health workers in India almost always suggested the wrong treatment for diarrhea. This is a very unfortunate situation, so to be safe only consult a reputable, licensed doctor, if possible.
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