Rotavirus disease can be serious for babies and young children

As if we don’t have enough to worry about with cold and flu viruses, we also have something called rotavirus disease to consider. It is easily spread among babies and young children, especially now, and it can be quite serious and even result in hospitalization. Western states, including Idaho, are seeing more cases of rotavirus disease right now, so it’s a good time to learn the symptoms and what can be done about it.

What are the symptoms?

It generally takes about two days for symptoms to develop. They include watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. The vomiting and diarrhea can last from three to eight days. Other symptoms can include a loss of appetite and dehydration. And even though now is a common time to become infected, it can be spread at any time of the year.

How is it spread?

Basically, people who are infected pass rotavirus in their feces. This is why hand-washing after using the bathroom is so important. Infected people shed the virus most when they are sick and during the first three days after they recover. So feeling better doesn’t mean a child is not contagious! It also can be spread on toys and other surfaces, as well as in food and water.

Rotavirus sounds terrible, but also very similar to norovirus. Is there a way to avoid it?

Good hand hygiene and cleanliness are important, as they always are, but they won’t control the spread of this disease. There is a vaccine to prevent rotavirus disease, which is really the best way to protect your children. The good news is that it’s not a shot – the vaccine is given in 2 or 3 doses by mouth before a baby is 8 months old. The vaccine will protect almost all children from getting severe rotavirus disease, and most from getting infected at all. It does not protect against other viruses, like norovirus, unfortunately.

If you think your child might be infected with rotavirus, what’s the best treatment?

Mostly, parents should have their children drink plenty of fluids and watch for signs of dehydration. Watch for a decrease in urination, a dry or sticky mouth, crying without many tears, sunken eyes or a sunken soft spot on top of the head, and unusual fussiness or sleepiness. Older children may feel dizzy when they stand up. If your child has any of these signs, severe vomiting, or a fever of 104° Fahrenheit or more, you should increase fluids and see your medical provider.

Anything else?

Before the vaccine was introduced in 2006, rotavirus disease was the leading cause of severe diarrhea for infants and young children in the United States, and almost all children were infected with the disease before their 5th birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That led to numerous ER and doctor visits, some hospitalizations for the most serious cases, and sadly, up to 60 deaths each year. So in addition to the vaccine, please remember to wash your hands often but especially after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from Jan. 24. Join us next week, when we will discuss Wear Red for Women and heart disease.) 

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