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Disease

Rotavirus

Page last updated on 09 November 2018

Rotavirus is a common infection in young children in Australia, with most having at least one infection before 3 years of age. Rotavirus causes viral gastroenteritis, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe watery diarrhoea and vomiting. Severe cases may lead to fluid loss that requires medical treatment.

In Australia, prior to the introduction of vaccination programs, rotavirus caused close to half of all hospitalised cases of gastroenteritis in children. 

With the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in Australia, the number of hospitalisations associated with the virus have decreased by 70%. Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), infants receive two doses of the vaccine against rotavirus – at 2 and 4 months of age.

Key disease information

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that belongs to the Reoviridae family. It causes viral gastroenteritis and is common in children. 

Some people, particularly infants under three months, may show no symptoms of infection. Or, people may experience abdominal pain (cramps), watery diarrhoea, vomiting, with or without fever. Severe diarrhoea and vomiting can cause fluid loss and dehydration that without medical treatment may be fatal. 

Although still relatively common in Australia, routine immunisation has successfully decreased the severity of symptoms and hence the number of hospitalisations due to rotavirus.

Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), it is recommended that children receive two doses of the rotavirus vaccine at 2 and 4 months of age.

How is rotavirus spread?

Rotavirus infects the intestine (bowel) and is found in faeces (poo). Therefore, rotavirus is spread by the faecal-oral route, where people transfer rotavirus from objects and surfaces contaminated with faeces to their mouth, such as via their hands, or by consuming food or water contaminated with faeces. 

Contamination of surfaces, objects, food or water with vomit will also spread the virus. 

Practising good personal hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water for at least 10 seconds after going to the toilet, before preparing food, or after caring for a sick person, will help decrease spread of rotavirus. It is also recommended to keep children with rotavirus at home from childcare for at least 24 hours after diarrhoea stops.

How is rotavirus treated?

There is no specific treatment for rotavirus. However, there are some treatments available to help with the symptoms. 

As diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to fluid loss and dehydration, drinking fluids may be required, for example oral rehydration solutions (ORS). Severe cases may require hospitalisation for intravenous fluid replacement (via a needle in a vein). 

Children may experience symptoms like severe dehydration, and medical treatment should be sought for children who show loss of appetite, little urination (wee), have a dry mouth and throat, and/or are unusually sleepy or hard to settle. 

Seek medical assistance or go to your emergency department if your child refuses to drink or has worrying symptoms, for example, very frequent diarrhoea or vomiting, listlessness or drowsiness.

Children, even those who are vaccinated, can get sick more than once. However, children who are vaccinated are much less likely to get sick and if they do, they will likely experience less severe symptoms than vaccinated children.

Adults normally experience milder symptoms and can be treated at home with fluids and rest.
 

How long does a rotavirus infection last?

Symptoms of rotavirus generally appear suddenly 1-3 days after picking up the virus (the incubation period after exposure). 

Symptoms generally last 3-8 days. 

People may still spread the virus for three days after the symptoms go away (after recovery).

Can rotavirus be deadly?

Yes. 

In a small number of cases rotavirus can kill when symptoms are severe and fluid loss is not treated. However, in Australia, routine immunisation has successfully decreased the severity of symptoms experienced by people, and hence the number of cases requiring hospitalisation.

Can you still get rotavirus after being vaccinated?

Yes, however children who are vaccinated are much less likely to get sick and if they do, they will likely experience less severe symptoms than vaccinated children.

Introduction of routine vaccination for rotavirus in Australia in 2007 has decreased the number of hospitalisations by an estimated 70%, so vaccination is effective protection against severe and possibly fatal rotavirus gastroenteritis. Vaccination is part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for infants at two and four months.

For more information regarding rotavirus and its prevention, speak with your healthcare professional.

VaccineHub offers general information only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice

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Sources & Citations

  1. Australian Government. Department of Health. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Number of notifications of Rotavirus from 1991 to 2017. Available at: http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_3.cfm (accessed 7 July 2018).
  2. Victorian Government, Better Health Channel, Rotavirus. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/rotavirus (accessed 7 April 2018).
  3. Centers for Disease Control. Rotavirus – Symptoms. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/symptoms.html (accessed 7 April 2018).
  4. Centers for Disease Control. Rotavirus – Treatment. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/treatment.html (accessed 7 April 2018).
  5. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 4.17 Rotavirus. Available at http://immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-17 (accessed 7 April 2018).
  6. NSW Government, Department of Health, Rotavirus Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/rotavirus-infection.aspx (accessed 7 April 2018)
  7. Centers for Disease Control,.Rotavirus – Transmission. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/transmission.html (accessed 7 April 2018).
  8. Australian Government, Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule. Available at https://beta.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule (accessed 7 April 2018).
  9. Centers for Disease Control,.Rotavirus – Prevention. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/prevention.html (accessed 7 April 2018).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0157 - Date of preparation May 2018

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