What is Rotavirus?

19 Jan 2023
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer
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When it comes to illnesses in young children, rotavirus is one of the most common. The highest rates of illness occur among infants and children age 5 and under. It can be a frightening experience for both child and parent. However, understanding what it is and how it’s treated can help ease your stress as you navigate this challenge together with your child. In this blog post, we will discuss everything about rotavirus, from its symptoms to treatment options – all to help you stay informed and provide the best care for your little one.

What is Rotavirus?

The name Rotavirus comes from its distinctive wheel-like shape. This term comes from the Latin word rota, which means ‘wheel’. Scientists first observed rotaviruses under an electron microscope and immediately noticed their peculiarly circular appearance.

Rotavirus disease is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis in children though adults and older children can also be affected. It causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and fever. It can be dangerous for young children since it can lead to dehydration and other serious complications if left untreated. Luckily, there is a vaccine that can help protect against rotavirus infection in infants and toddlers.

Symptoms of Rotavirus

For people with healthy immune systems, rotavirus disease is self-limited, lasting only a few days. The most noticeable symptom of rotavirus is usually watery diarrhoea, which can persist for days or even weeks. Other symptoms include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and sometimes loss of appetite. In some cases, the symptoms may also include dehydration due to excessive loss of fluids through diarrhoea.

Common symptoms of rotavirus in children include dry diapers, little urination, sleepiness, loss of appetite, vomiting and severe diarrhoea. If your child is suffering from any of these symptoms and you suspect they have contracted rotavirus, it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth, decreased urine output and dry skin.

Seek immediate medical attention if the dehydration becomes more severe or if your child does not appear to be improving due to the virus. Occasionally, severe dehydration requires receiving fluids through a vein (intravenously) in the hospital.

Rotavirus treatment

Treatment for rotavirus typically involves supportive care methods such as plenty of fluids to compensate for lost fluids and electrolytes during vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed if the infection has been caused by bacteria in addition to the virus.

Healthcare professionals may also suggest over-the-counter medications to neutralise stomach acid and reduce nausea or pain relief medications. It’s important to note however that treatment will vary depending on the severity and other factors, so it’s best to consult with your doctor for a proper diagnosis to determine which treatment methods would be the most effective for your child’s case.

Along with hydration therapy, it is important to observe other precautions such as observing proper hand hygiene when handling and disposing of diapers, frequent cleaning of toilets and bathrooms, and avoiding close contact with infected family members or individuals. With prompt medical attention and treatment, the disorder can be managed successfully without any permanent health problems.

How does Rotavirus spread?

The virus that causes rotavirus is present in stool and is mainly transmitted through hand and mouth contact. If another person touches your unwashed hands or a contaminated object and then touches his or her mouth, an infection may follow. Contact with an infected person’s saliva or stool also increases your risk of contracting rotavirus. As such, it’s important to practice good hand hygiene which means washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to reduce your risk of spreading or contracting the virus.

Rotavirus Vaccine

The rotavirus vaccine is an immunisation developed to protect children from the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. All children in the UK receive the rotavirus vaccine as part of the NHS childhood vaccination schedule, with two doses recommended for infants at ages 2 months and 3 months old. The brand name of the vaccine used in the UK is Rotarix. It was introduced into the childhood immunisation schedule by the NHS in July 2013.

The vaccine comes in a simple liquid drops form known as Rotarix, which works by introducing a weakened form of the virus into the body, stimulating an immune response without triggering any infection or disease symptoms. This can provide long-term protection through antibodies which are passed to the baby through breast milk and help fight off subsequent rotavirus infections. Introducing this vaccine into regular childhood vaccination schedules helps ensure optimal protection from this highly contagious virus and looks after our children’s health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact of the rotavirus. During the first year of an infant’s life, the rotavirus vaccine provides 85% to 98% protection against severe rotavirus illness according to (CDC). It estimates that every year, the vaccines prevent 40,000 to 50,000 hospitalisations among babies and young children.

Side effects of the vaccine

It is important to be aware that the vaccine does come with some side effects. The most common are mild stomach symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, and upset stomach. Other less common side effects include intussusception. This is a condition in which one part of the intestine slide into another, creating a blockage that can be very serious and require medical attention. If your child experiences any troubling symptoms after receiving the vaccine, you should contact your healthcare provider right away.

Prevention of Rotavirus

There are practical preventive methods parents and caregivers can take to help stop the virus from spreading.

  • It is important to make sure your family always washes their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food
  • Disinfect items such as toys, door handles, countertops or other surfaces that may come into contact with an infected person’s faecal matter
  • Encouraging good hygiene and handwashing practices among family members and even visitors can prevent the further spread of rotavirus, especially when children are involved.
  • Immunizing children against rotavirus should be considered to provide optimal protection against this virus

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that affects young children worldwide. While there is no cure for rotavirus infection, there are steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk of becoming infected including staying up-to-date on vaccinations, washing your hands often, and disinfecting surfaces regularly. By following these simple prevention tips, you can help keep your little one safe from this potentially serious illness.

For more information about Rotavirus and the vaccine, check out the links below 

 

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