What is rotavirus?

Short Answer

Rotavirus causes gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) and is spread by hands, water, or objects that are contaminated by an infected person’s feces. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. In babies and young children, it can lead to dehydration that can be a serious health threat. There are two vaccines that are 85-98% effective in preventing severe rotavirus disease in infants and young children.




Symptoms & Incubation
Rotavirus causes the following symptoms anywhere from one to three days following infection:

  • Fever
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain

Diarrhea and vomiting may last for three to eight days. Children may stop eating and drinking while they are sick.

Rotavirus can be very serious. Diarrhea, vomiting, and fever can all cause a loss of body fluids. This leads to dehydration, which can be especially dangerous for babies and young children. Some children need an IV (needle in their vein) in the hospital to replace lost fluids.

Rotavirus spreads easily. The virus 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, which can have a small amount of the stool on them. The disease commonly spreads in families, hospitals, and child-care centers.

Rotavirus 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.

High-risk Populations
Babies and children under 5 years old are highly susceptible to rotavirus. Almost all children in the U.S. are infected with rotavirus before they are 5 years old. Without the vaccine, children are very likely to get rotavirus diarrhea.

RotaTeq® and Rotarix® are brands of rotavirus vaccine. They are given by mouth, not by a shot.

Almost all children (85 to 98 children out of 100) who get the rotavirus vaccine will be protected from severe disease caused by the virus.

Safety & Side Effects
The rotavirus vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing rotavirus disease. RotaTeq® and Rotarix® have been tested with more than 70,000 patients. Millions of babies in the U.S. have gotten the vaccine safely.

Some studies have shown a small rise in cases of intussusception within a week after the first dose of rotavirus vaccine. Intussusception is a type of bowel blockage that is treated in a hospital. Some babies might need surgery. About one infant out of 100,000 might get intussusception.

Babies should get the first dose of the rotavirus vaccine at 2 months of age. For both vaccine brands, babies get a second dose at 4 months. A third dose of RotaTeq® is given at 6 months.

The rotavirus vaccine should not be started after a baby is 15 weeks old. Babies should get all doses by 8 months of age. The rotavirus vaccine can be administered at the same time as other vaccines.

Since the Vaccine Was Introduced…
In the pre-vaccine era, rotavirus infection was responsible each year for more than 400,000 physician visits, more than 200,000 emergency department (ED) visits, 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, and 20 to 60 deaths. Annual direct and indirect costs were estimated at approximately $1 billion, primarily due to the cost of time lost from work to care for an ill child. Rotavirus activity in the United States decreased significantly after introduction of rotavirus vaccine in 2006.