Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


5-minute read

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a very contagious viral illness. It can cause severe and life-threatening gastroenteritis. Rotavirus mainly affects children between 6 months and under 3 years old. It is so contagious that outbreaks of rotavirus can occur in childcare places.

What are the symptoms of rotavirus?

Symptoms normally start between 1 and 3 days after infection with the virus. The illness usually begins suddenly with vomiting, followed by watery diarrhoea. About 1 in 3 people with rotavirus also have a fever in the first few days of the illness.

Symptoms usually last from a few days to a week. People with rotavirus stay infectious for about 2 weeks.

Some babies, especially those aged under 3 months, may not show any symptoms.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the diarrhoea and vomiting Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

When should I see a doctor?

Most children recover quickly from rotavirus. However, younger children can quickly become dehydrated. You should see your doctor if your child:

  • is less than 6 months old
  • has other health problems
  • is not taking enough fluids
  • keeps vomiting or the vomit is green
  • is very tired or drowsy
  • has blood or mucus in their poo
  • has abdominal (tummy) pain that does not go away
  • has a high fever
  • has other symptoms such as pain when going to the toilet or a headache
  • does not seem to be getting better

If you are worried — see your doctor.

What causes rotavirus?

Rotavirus is usually spread by contact with an infected person through:

  • person-to-person contact, particularly with someone who has not washed their hands
  • coming into contact with vomit or diarrhoea
  • being exposed to contaminated objects, food or water

It can also be spread by coughing and sneezing.

Rotavirus spreads very easily because it can be passed on before symptoms appear and you begin to feel ill.

How is rotavirus diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made based on symptoms and testing the child’s stool (poo) in a laboratory.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — the Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is rotavirus treated?

Usually, the illness will take its course without requiring treatment, but in the meantime it is important to:

  • get plenty of rest
  • drink plenty of water to replace fluids lost to diarrhoea and avoid dehydration (over-the-counter rehydration drinks can help). You can read more about suitable fluids on the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website
  • avoid anti-diarrhoea medicines unless recommended by your doctor

Breastfed babies can continue feeding, but may need additional fluids.

Children under 2 may need to go to hospital to treat dehydration.

Can rotavirus be prevented?

The best way to prevent rotavirus in children is to have them vaccinated. The rotavirus vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program Schedule to babies under 6 months. It is important to have your baby immunised in time, if you are late then they may not be able to be immunised. Older children and adults should not get the rotavirus vaccine.

There is a very small risk that babies may develop a bowel problem called intussusception after receiving the vaccine. For more information on the vaccine, visit the Department of Health website

Rotavirus vaccine

Vaccination is your child's best protection against rotavirus. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

What age is it recommended? 2 and 4 months, or 2, 4 and 6 months, depending on the vaccine.
How many doses are required? 2 or 3, depending on the vaccine.
How is it administered? Oral (you swallow them)
Is it free?

Rotarix is free for children aged 2 and 4 months.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. There are usually no side effects. Very rarely, babies may develop a bowel problem called intussusception between 1 and 7 days after getting a rotavirus vaccine.

There are many ways to prevent the spread of rotavirus.

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before handling food, after using the toilet or changing a nappy. Take particular care with handwashing after changing nappies in the 2 weeks after the rotavirus vaccine has been given. It is a live vaccine so it can be present in the babies' faeces (poo).
  • Never change a baby's nappy on surfaces where food is prepared or eaten.
  • Wash objects that may have been exposed to rotavirus with hot water and soap and allow to dry.
  • If you or your child have had diarrhoea, avoid entering a swimming pool for 2 weeks after you or they have completely recovered.
  • Keep children with rotavirus at home from childcare for at least 24 hours after diarrhoea stops

Resources and support

  • If you are concerned you or your child may have symptoms of rotavirus, see your doctor or use healthdirect's Symptom Checker to find out what to do next.
  • For more information on immunisation in Australia, visit the National Immunisation Schedule web page

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Rotavirus - Better Health Channel

Rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis for Australian babies and preschool children.

Read more on Better Health Channel website


Rotaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause severe viral gastroenteritis in infants and young children.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Rotavirus vaccines for Australians | NCIRS

Webinar video now available - Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine program reset: navigating safety, acceptance and uptakeRead the full article

Read more on National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) website

Rotavirus in Australia

Rotavirus is a common cause of severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children, but may affect people of any age.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website


This fact sheet gives information about rotavirus which is the most common diarrhoeal illness in children

Read more on WA Health website

Rotavirus infection fact sheet - Fact sheets

Rotavirus infection fact sheet

Read more on NSW Health website

Gastroenteritis - Better Health Channel

It is important to establish the cause of gastro, as different types of gastroenteritis respond to different treatments.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Gastroenteritis or gastro: kids & teens | Raising Children Network

Lots of children get gastroenteritis or gastro. It causes diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting. If your child has gastro, make sure your child gets enough fluid.

Read more on website

Viral gastroenteritis fact sheet - Fact sheets

Gastroenteritis is commonly caused by viral infections resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea. The viruses are easily spread from person to person. Thorough washing of hands with soap and running water are vital to prevent spread.

Read more on NSW Health website

Immunisation | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Today, we have vaccines which protect children against many diseases

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.