Before the introduction of a vaccine, rotavirus, an extremely contagious virus, was a common cause of diarrhea in young children, with most experiencing an infection by age 5.

While rotavirus infections can be uncomfortable, they can usually be treated at home by ensuring adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration. In severe instances, hospitalization might be required for intravenous fluid therapy to manage dehydration. Encouraging proper hygiene habits such as frequent handwashing is essential. Nonetheless, vaccination is the most reliable method for preventing rotavirus infection.


In most cases, symptoms of a rotavirus infection appear around two days after exposure to the virus. These typically start with fever and vomiting, followed by three to seven days of watery diarrhea. Abdominal pain may also occur during the infection. Healthy adults often experience mild symptoms or may not show any signs or symptoms of the infection at all.

Contact your child’s doctor if your child:

  • Has a temperature of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher
  • Frequently throws up
  • Has diarrhea lasting longer than 24 hours
  • Has black, tarry, or pus-filled stool
  • Has indications of dehydration, like dry mouth, crying without tears, minimal urination, unusual sleepiness, or lack of responsiveness.
  • Seems exhausted, agitated, or in pain

As an adult, contact your doctor if you:

  • Have a temperature higher than 103 F (39.4 C)
  • Have diarrhea for more than two days
  • Have blood in your vomit or bowel movements
  • Can’t stay hydrated for more than 24 hours
  • Have signs or symptoms of dehydration, including intense thirst, dry mouth, reduced urination, pronounced weakness, dizziness upon standing, or feeling lightheaded.


Rotavirus can be detected in an infected individual’s stool as early as two days before symptoms emerge and persists for up to 10 days after symptoms diminish. During this period, the virus readily spreads through hand-to-mouth contact, even in the absence of symptoms in the infected person.

Neglecting to wash hands after using the toilet or changing a child’s diaper can aid in spreading the virus. In such instances, the virus can contaminate various surfaces like food, toys, and utensils, increasing the risk of infection for others who touch these surfaces and then their mouths. Rotavirus can retain its infectiousness on untreated surfaces for weeks or even months.
Although vaccination provides protection, it is still possible to get infected with rotavirus multiple times. However, subsequent infections are usually less severe.

Risk factors

Rotavirus infections are prevalent among children aged 3 to 35 months, especially those who frequent childcare facilities. Additionally, older adults and individuals caring for young children face an elevated risk of contracting the infection.