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Rotavirus mainly affects children between 6 months and 2 years old.

Rotavirus mainly affects children between 6 months and 2 years old.
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Rotavirus

3-minute read

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.

Rotavirus symptoms

Symptoms include:

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

Rotavirus treatment

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 6 months old should see a doctor. Children under 2 may need to go to hospital to treat dehydration.

Rotavirus prevention

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 to 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 the Department of Health website.

Rotavirus vaccine

Vaccination is your 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. 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’ faeces (poo), 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 2 weeks after symptoms disappear
  • keep children with rotavirus at home from childcare for at least 24 hours after diarrhoea stops

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

Last reviewed: April 2019

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