Infectious Diseases

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Rotavirus

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What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a viral infection that causes gastroenteritis. It is common in children, although adults can also become infected. Outbreaks can occur in child care settings, long-term care homes and in community residences for older adults.

How is it spread?

The primary way this virus is spread is "fecal-oral". This means you can become infected by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with rotavirus. If proper handwashing techniques are not used, direct contact with an ill person’s contaminated hands, or cleaning up vomit or diarrhea of an ill person can spread the infection from person to person.
Since the virus can be found on toys and hard surfaces, the virus can be transmitted when these items are handled and unwashed hands are then put into the mouth or when the item itself is directly placed in the mouth. Transmission may also happen by eating or drinking contaminated food or water but this is quite rare.
It is important to note that rotavirus may be present in the stool before the onset of diarrhea until about eight days after. However, in patients who have other major illnesses and are immune compromised, it has been reported in rare cases to be present for as long as 30 days after the onset of symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

You may have diarrhea, fever and vomiting that can last four to six days. The symptoms can become severe and result in dehydration.

How soon do symptoms of rotavirus appear?

You may become sick within one to three days of becoming infected with the virus.

How is rotavirus diagnosed?

Rotavirus is diagnosed when your stool is examined by the public health lab. The results may be available the same day or may take several days, depending on the type of test that is done. You may have to collect several specimens on different days because rotavirus may not be found in every sample.

What is the treatment for rotavirus?

There is no specific treatment for rotavirus. Preventing dehydration with fluid replacement is the most important step. Consulting your physician or health care provider is recommended when there are signs of dehydration (such as sunken eyes, dry skin, dry mouth and decreased urination).

Is there a vaccine to prevent rotavirus disease?

Yes. Rotarix® is a publicly funded (free) vaccine given by mouth and is given in two doses; at the 2 month and 4 month immunization visits. The series must be completed by 24 weeks of age.

How do I protect myself and others?

The following points are helpful in preventing the spread of rotavirus:

  • get rid of diapers in a sanitary manner
  • clean surfaces that are touched often and clean diaper change areas after each use with a solution that is one part bleach to nine parts water
  • exclude infected persons from jobs that involve handling food or caring for others and exclude infected children from child care centres until at least two days (48 hrs) after the illness has ended. In the event of a rotavirus outbreak, follow the direction of the Outbreak Management Team for the affected facility or institution.
  • wash hands often with soap and warm water after using the toilet, diapering and before preparing or eating food
  • immunize infants with a rotavirus vaccine

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