Rotavirus is a viral illness that causes diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. It mainly affects children between 6 months and 2 years old. Children are routinely vaccinated against rotavirus.
What causes rotavirus?
Rotavirus causes severe viral gastroenteritis. It 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
Rotavirus spreads very easily because it can be passed on before symptoms appear and you begin to feel ill.
Symptoms usually last from a few days to a week. People with rotavirus stay infectious for about two weeks.
Usually the illness will take its course without requiring treatment, but it's a good idea 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)
- avoid anti-diarrhoea medicines unless recommended by your doctor
Breastfed babies can continue feeding, but may need additional fluids. Children with vomiting or diarrhoea who are very unwell or under six months old should see a doctor. Children under two may need to go to hospital to treat dehydration.
The best way to prevent rotavirus in children is to have them vaccinated. The rotavirus vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. It is given at 6-8 weeks and again at 4 months of age, but is not given to older babies and children. 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 Immunise Australia.
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. Particular caution with handwashing should be taken after changing nappies in the 2 weeks after the rotavirus vaccine has been given, as the virus can be present in the babies stools, as it is a live vaccine.
- Wash objects that have been exposed to rotavirus with hot water and soap then, allow them to dry.
- If you've had diarrhoea, avoid entering a swimming pool for two weeks after symptoms disappear.
- Keep children with rotavirus at home from childcare for at least 24 hours after diarrhoea stops.
Last reviewed: January 2018