Skip to main content

En Español 

Rotavirus Infection


What is a rotavirus infection? Rotavirus is a virus that causes inflammation of the small intestine. The infection can prevent your body from absorbing water and nutrients from food. Rotavirus can infect people of all ages, but the infection most often occurs in children younger than 5 years.

How is a rotavirus infection spread?

  • Rotavirus is found in the bowel movements of an infected person. Rotavirus spreads when the person does not wash his hands after he has bowel movements or changes an infected baby's diaper.

  • The infection may also spread through water or food that has been exposed to rotavirus.

  • Rotavirus can remain on objects for many days. Examples are toilets, clothes, and toys. The infection can spread when a person touches the object.

  • Rotavirus may also be spread when an infected person coughs.

Who is at increased risk for a rotavirus infection?

  • Babies and young children who are 3 months to 2 years old

  • Children in daycare

  • People who care for children

  • People who travel often

  • People with weak immune systems, such as from cancer, HIV, or organ or bone marrow transplants

  • Workers and patients in hospitals or nursing homes

What are the signs and symptoms of a rotavirus infection? Symptoms usually begin 1 to 3 days after a person becomes infected with rotavirus. The rotavirus infection can be spread 2 days before symptoms start, and up to 10 days after. Symptoms normally last from 3 to 8 days and may include more than one of the following:

  • Fever

  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain

  • Severe, watery diarrhea that usually starts 1 to 2 days after a fever and vomiting

  • Fatigue and irritability

  • Headaches

How is a rotavirus infection diagnosed? Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your signs and symptoms. If you have diarrhea, tell your healthcare provider when it started, and how often it occurs. Your healthcare provider may check you for signs of dehydration. A sample of your bowel movement may be sent to a lab to be tested for a rotavirus infection.

How is a rotavirus infection treated? A rotavirus infection may go away without treatment. You will need treatment for rotavirus if you are dehydrated, or at risk for dehydration:

  • Extra liquids: You may need to drink extra liquids or give extra liquids to your child. You or your child may need oral rehydrating solution (ORS). This is a drink that contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water. Ask how much liquid you or your child should drink each day. If you breastfeed, continue to breastfeed your baby.

  • Nasogastric tube or IV therapy: If you cannot drink liquid, you may be given liquid through a nasogastric (NG) tube. An NG tube is put in through the nose and down into the stomach. You may also need liquid given through an IV tube if you are very dehydrated.

What are the risks of a rotavirus infection? Even with treatment, you may get another rotavirus infection. Too much ORS may cause vomiting or mouth sores. Too much liquid can also cause your eyelids, hands, and feet to swell. Without treatment, your symptoms may get worse. You may become dehydrated. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Rarely, a rotavirus infection may spread to your blood, organs, or brain.

How can I help prevent the spread of a rotavirus infection?

  • Get your baby vaccinated: The rotavirus vaccine helps protect your baby from rotavirus infection. The vaccine may also help decrease your baby's symptoms if he gets a rotavirus infection. The rotavirus vaccine is usually given at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months of age. The vaccine may be given as early as 6 weeks of age. The vaccine cannot be given once your baby is 8 months old. Ask for more information about rotavirus vaccine, and if your baby should get it.

  • Clean items that may be infected: Use chlorine-based disinfectants to clean surfaces, toilets, toys, and shared items in your home.

  • Stay home while you are sick: Stay away from others for as long as your healthcare provider says you should. Do not return to work, school, or daycare until he says it is safe so you do not spread the virus to others.

  • Wash hands often: This will help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water after they use the bathroom. Everyone should also wash their hands after they change a child's diaper and before they prepare or eat food.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a dry, sticky mouth, cries without tears, or has sunken-looking eyes.

  • Your child is drinking less liquid than usual, or is very thirsty and cannot get enough to drink.

  • Your child is losing weight.

  • Your child urinates less than usual or your baby has fewer than 6 wet diapers in one day.

  • You have a fever that is not going away or is getting worse.

  • You have blood in your bowel movements.

  • You have stomach pain, and more frequent diarrhea.

  • Your body is puffy and swollen, and your face is red.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • The soft spot on your baby's head is sunken.

  • Your child's body seems floppy and weak, or he does not respond to you at all.

  • Your child cannot, or will not, drink at all.

  • You are confused, or sleepier than usual.

  • You see things that are not there.

  • You cannot stop vomiting.

  • Your hands and feet suddenly become cold.

  • You have trouble breathing or your heartbeat is faster than usual.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

References and sources