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Disease

Rotavirus

Page last updated on 08 April 2022

Rotavirus is a common infection in young children in Australia. Most children have at least one infection before three years of age.

Before the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine, rotavirus infection was the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children. Symptoms usually begin with sudden vomiting and diarrhoea. Some cases may lead to severe dehydration that requires treatment or hospitalisation.

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, 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 rotavirus is still relatively common in Australia, routine immunisation has successfully decreased the number of roatvirus cases, and 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 the virus is found in the faeces (poo) of an infected person. 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 medicine for rotavirus infection. However, there are some treatments available to help with the symptoms. 

As diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to fluid loss, treatment consists of lots of liquids to prevent dehydration, for example clear fluids, or rehydration drinks which are available from pharmacy. Severe cases may require hospitalisation for intravenous fluid replacement (via a needle in a vein). 

Children may experience symptoms of dehydration. 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 than children.

How long does a rotavirus infection last?

Symptoms of rotavirus generally appear suddenly 1-3 days after exposure to the virus. 

Symptoms generally last 4 - 6 days. 

After someone’s recovery from rotavirus, their faeces can remain infectious for up to two months.

 

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 number of rotavirus cases, and the severity of symptoms in those who contact the disease, 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.  Victoria State Government. Better Health Channel. Rotavirus. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/rotavirus?viewAsPdf=true (accessed 15 March 2022).

2. Australian Government, Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Rotavirus. Available at: https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/rotavirus (accessed 15 March 2022).

3. Australian Government, Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule#national-immunisation-program-schedule-from-1-april-2019 (accessed 15 March 2022). 

4. NSW Government. Rotavirus Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Factsheets/rotavirus.pdf 
(accessed 15 March 2022).

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rotavirus. Symptoms. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/symptoms.html (accessed 15 March 2022).

6. Australian Government, Australia Institute of Health and Welfare. Rotavirus in Australia. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/a6a24843-1516-4487-8260-59cb2174e843/aihw-phe-236_Rotavirus.pdf.aspx (accessed 15 March 2022).

7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Pink Book: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Chapter 19: Rotavirus. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/rota.pdf (accessed 15 March 2022).

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rotavirus. Treatment. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/treatment.html (accessed 15 March 2022).

 

MAT-AU-2200805   Date of Preparation March 2022

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