What every parent needs to know...
What is Rotavirus?
Rotavirus is a virus that infects the intestines and is the commonest cause of severe gastroenteritis in children younger than 5 years of age. Gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus is highly contagious. Most children get a rotavirus infection by age 2; almost all have it by age 5. It is possible to get infected with rotavirus more than once, but the first infection is usually the worst.
Whereas Rotavirus outbreaks occur seasonally in countries like the United states (about November through April), specific seasonal patterns in tropical climates like Jamaica are less pronounced.
How is Rotavirus Spread?
Rotavirus is present in stools before the onset of diarrhea and can persist for 10-12 days after the onset of diarrhea. Rotavirus infections are usually spread through contact with stools from an infected person or by hand-to-mouth contact after a contaminated surface is touched. Rotavirus is an important cause of gastroenteritis in children attending daycare. The germ can live for days on objects such as toys and household surfaces that are not properly disinfected. The virus can still spread despite attempts at good hygiene such as handwashing and keeping a clean home as the virus cannot be killed by many of the common hand soaps and disinfectants available.
There is also a belief that some rotavirus infections are spread through the air.
Symptoms and Treatment of Rotavirus Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus usually results in diarrhoea, usually preceded or accompanied by vomiting ; there may also be fever and abdominal pain.
It takes about 1-2 days for a child who is exposed to the rotavirus germ to start having symptoms. The vomiting usually stops within the first few days of illness but the diarrhea when severe can last for 4-8 days. In some children diarrhea can last for a few weeks. Vomiting and /or diarrhea can lead to dehydration-which occurs when the body loses water and electrolytes more quickly than they are replaced. Small children and infants become dehydrated very quickly and this dehydration when severe can lead to death. For this reason it is important to continue to breastfeed infants and to administer special rehydration drinks such as Oral Rehydration Fluid, Rapolyte, or Pedialyte to replace fluid losses. These rehydration drinks help to replace fluid and electrolytes and prevent serious dehydration from developing. Plain water and most juices do not provide the necessary electrolytes or nutrients and may not be absorbed well in children with diarrhea.
When to Seek Medical Care
Children with severe dehydration need to be treated in a hospital setting. Signs of severe dehydration include:
- Sunken eyes without tears
- Fast breathing and rapid heartbeat
- No urination or a dry diaper for more than 12 hours(or fewer than 3 wet diapers in 24 hours) A dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying
- Lack of playfulness and excessive sleepiness
Other important reasons for seeking medical care
- Young age (<6 months or weight< 8kg)
- Premature infants, chronic medical conditions such as heart disease
- Visible blood in stools
- Frequent large volumes of diarrhea
- Persistent vomiting and inability to tolerate oral fluids
- Inability of the caregiver to administer oral rehydration fluid
- Fever >380 C for infants < 3 months of age or >390C for children aged 3-36 months.
How to Reduce Rotavirus Infection
Rotavirus infection can be minimized by thorough frequent handwashing – but it can be very difficult to prevent children from getting this infection.
Children with rotavirus diarrhoea in whom stool cannot be contained by diaper or toilet use should be kept from child care centers or school until diarrhea ceases. Surfaces contaminated with stools should be cleaned frequently with soap and water /dilute bleach solutions
There are rotavirus vaccines available for administration ONLY to infants starting at age 6 weeks – 3 months of age. These vaccines do not prevent all rotavirus infections but prevents the development of gastroenteritis due to rotavirus where there is severe dehydration.
Further information concerning these vaccines may be obtained by consulting with your child’s paediatrician/healthcare provider.