What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a highly contagious disease that is caused by contact with someone infected with rotavirus. It is a serious disease because it can lead to dehydration, shock and sometimes death.

Before the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in Australia:

  • around 10,000 children under 5 years old were hospitalised because of rotavirus every year
  • around 115,000 children under 5 years old saw their doctor because of rotavirus every year
  • at least 1 child died because of rotavirus every year.

Since the vaccine was introduced, the number of children who go to hospital because of rotavirus has dropped by more than 70%.

Symptoms

Rotavirus symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea, which usually starts suddenly
  • fever
  • dry mouth, not weeing much, or few or no tears when crying. These are signs of dehydration, or not having enough water in your body
  • drowsiness.

Symptoms usually start about 1 to 3 days after catching rotavirus. Most people recover after 3 to 7 days.

Who is at risk

Rotavirus can affect people at any age, though the following people have higher risk of infection:

  • babies and young children
  • older people
  • anyone with a weakened immune system due to illness or injury.

How it spreads

Rotavirus spreads:

  • by direct contact with faeces from an infected person, such as when changing a nappy or caring for a sick child
  • through close contact with an infected person
  • through contact with clothing, bedding or other things that an infected person has used
  • through eating food or drinking water that contains rotavirus.

You can get rotavirus several times during your life. The first time you get it is usually the most severe.

Because rotavirus is very contagious, it can quickly spread through families, childcare centres, schools and aged care facilities.

If you or your child has rotavirus, you can help stop the disease spreading by:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread the infection – your doctor will tell you when you are no longer infectious
  • washing your hands often, especially before eating or preparing food
  • washing and disinfecting anything that has been in contact with faeces, such as nappies or the nappy-changing table
  • washing toys, bedding, clothes and other things that the infected person has touched.

Prevention

Rotavirus vaccines can only be given to young children.

Find out more about getting vaccinated against rotavirus.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose rotavirus by:

  • checking your symptoms
  • testing a faeces sample.

If you have rotavirus your doctor may be required to notify your state or territory health department.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for rotavirus. You can relieve the symptoms by:

  • resting
  • taking time off work or school
  • drinking plenty of fluids.

Symptoms can be mild and last only a couple of days, or they can be severe and life-threatening. You may need to go to hospital if you have a severe case of the disease.

Contacts

National Immunisation Hotline

Resources

Rotavirus vaccines for Australian children

Last updated: 
6 November 2018