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Rotavirus - diagnosis and treatment

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes diarrhoea. Before the development of a vaccine, most children by the age of 5 had contracted the virus at least once. Rotavirus most commonly affects infants and young children, but older children and adults can also get sick. Adults affected by rotavirus usually have mild symptoms.

Who is at greatest risk for rotavirus disease?

Rotavirus gastroenteritis mainly occurs in children between the ages of six months and two years. A child can be infected more than once by different rotavirus types. Almost every child under the age of five gets infected at least once. Rotavirus is highly contagious and very durable. Transmission of the infection occurs indirectly – through the faecal-oral route, most often through contaminated surfaces or objects, or through direct contact with another child.


Diagnosis

Many diseases cause diarrhoea. Rotavirus is often diagnosed following a symptoms and physical examination, as well as analysis of a stool sample to confirm the diagnosis. Rapid tests such as ROTADENO-Screen® are used to detect rotavirus and/or adenovirus in a stool sample.


Treatment

There is no specific medication to treat rotavirus infection, but your doctor may recommend medication to treat the symptoms. Antibiotics won't help because they fight bacteria, not viruses.


Because rotavirus can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea, it can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids). The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids. Severe dehydration may require hospitalisation for treatment with intravenous fluids, which patients receive directly through their veins. If you or someone you care for is severely dehydrated, contact your doctor. Babies and toddlers, the elderly, and people with other illnesses are most at risk of dehydration.


Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • decreased urination

  • dry mouth and throat

  • feeling dizzy when standing up

  • crying with few or no tears and

  • unusual sleepiness or nervousness

Home remedies

If your baby is sick, offer small amounts of fluids. If you are breastfeeding, let your baby nurse. If your baby is drinking formula, offer a small amount of oral rehydration liquid or regular formula. Do not dilute formula for your baby.


If your older child is unwell, offer soft foods that don't contain added sugar, such as whole grain bread, lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. Fluids are also important. Avoid carbonated soft drinks, apple juice, dairy products other than yogurt, which can make diarrhoea worse.


Adults should avoid anything that can irritate their stomach, including highly spiced foods, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

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