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Disease Information / Rotavirus


What is it

Rotavirus is a viral infection and a common cause of severe gastroenteritis in babies and young children. Most children have had at least one infection by the age of three. In Australia, rotavirus causes close to half of all hospitalised cases of gastroenteritis in children. Rotavirus gastroenteritis is usually more severe than other types of gastroenteritis and accounts for about 115,000 doctor visits every year.1,2

Who is at risk and what are the symptoms

Rotavirus affects children under the age of five. Symptoms begin with vomiting one to three days after contact with the infection, followed by the onset of diarrhoea. In severe cases, children can suffer from dehydration, fever and shock. In most cases the symptoms resolve within a week. 1

How is it spread

Rotavirus spreads from child to child through contaminated food, water and the air. It can also be caused by contact with infected vomit or faeces.1

How is it prevented

Rotavirus is vaccine preventable and recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. Vaccination is provided in two or three doses at two, four and six months of age. Immunisation can dramatically reduce the risk of future infections, but general tips to prevent spreading the disease if someone is infected include: • Wash your hands thoroughly after changing a nappy • Use disposable nappies while the child is sick – the elasticised leg bands help to prevent leakage of contaminated faeces • Dispose of nappies and used tissues carefully • Wash and disinfect the change table often • Wash and disinfect toys and other shared items regularly • Keep sick babies and children at home; rotavirus gastroenteritis can spread quickly through a creche or kindergarten • Wash your hands before handling, preparing or eating food or drink 1,2

How is it diagnosed and treated

A doctor will usually diagnose a suspected case of rotavirus based on symptoms. Diagnosis can be confirmed by testing a child’s stool in a laboratory. To avoid dehydration, children with rotavirus symptoms must drink plenty of clear fluids. Rehydration drinks from your chemist can help too. In severe cases, children are admitted to hospital for intravenous (IV) fluids. It is not advised to begin treating the condition before it is accurately diagnosed by a doctor. 3

Where to get help

Urgent medical advice from your General Practitioner is recommended for the onset of rotavirus-like symptoms. For more information please contact your healthcare professional.


  1. Immunise Australia Program:
  3. NSW Government Health: