Rotavirus is a gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) infection that mostly affects children. While the disease used to happen more often, rotavirus vaccines have kept many kids healthy. For those who do get infected, rotavirus can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting. This can lead to dehydration, so make sure to keep your child hydrated.


What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a contagious gastrointestinal (GI) infection that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis). This can lead to severe diarrhea and vomiting, especially in young children. Kids tend to get rotavirus during the winter and spring. It spreads when they come in contact with the poop (stool) of someone who has it and then touch their own mouth.

Once your child gets rotavirus, it takes about two to three days for them to become sick. Then, diarrhea and vomiting may last for up to one week. To prevent dehydration, make sure your child drinks plenty of liquids. There’s no medicine for rotavirus. The infection usually passes on its own. However, some children may need to go to the hospital for IV fluids (fluids given through your vein).

Who gets rotavirus?

People of all ages can get rotavirus. But it mostly occurs in children younger than 1 year old. The rotavirus vaccines — Rotarix® or RotaTeq® — can protect children from getting rotavirus or make their symptoms less severe if they do get it.

How common is rotavirus?

Before the vaccines became available, rotavirus was the No. 1 cause of severe diarrhea in babies and young children in the United States. Nearly all children got rotavirus before the age of 5. Rotavirus led to 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations each year.

The vaccines have significantly improved children’s health and hospitalization rates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact. It estimates that every year, the vaccines prevent 40,000 to 50,000 hospitalizations among babies and young children.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of rotavirus?

The most common rotavirus symptoms include:

The vomiting and diarrhea may also cause dehydration in babies and young children. Contact your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has symptoms of dehydration, including:

  • Not peeing as frequently (fewer wet diapers than usual).
  • Cool, dry skin.
  • Dizziness when standing.
  • Dry mouth and throat.
  • Few or no tears when crying.
  • Lethargy — sleeping more and playing less or acting unusually fussy.
  • Sunken eyes or a sunken soft spot on the top of the head.

Why is dehydration serious for babies?

Dehydration means your baby doesn’t have enough water and salts to function properly. Babies younger than 1 year old can dehydrate easily.

Many times, dehydrated children need IV fluids to rehydrate. If dehydration gets severe, a child could start convulsing (experiencing sudden, erratic body movements) or go into shock. It could be life-threatening.

What causes rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that spreads through hand-to-mouth contact. It shows up in an infected child’s poop (stool) a few days before symptoms start. And it can remain in your child’s bowel movements for up to 10 days after symptoms stop.

Is rotavirus contagious?

Rotavirus is very contagious. Before the rotavirus vaccines, most children got rotavirus by the age of 5. Since the vaccines, the number of children who get rotavirus infection has dropped.

How does rotavirus spread?

Rotavirus spreads through contact with poop. For example, you might change a soiled diaper of a baby with rotavirus. If you don’t wash your hands afterward, you could get virus particles in your mouth. Family members need to wash their hands well to prevent the virus from spreading.

Who’s at risk for rotavirus?

Typically, children in daycare or other programs with large numbers of children are at a higher risk. Children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years who haven’t received the vaccine tend to get the most severe disease.

Can adults get rotavirus?

Rotavirus in adults does occur, but they tend to get less sick than young children do. Adults at risk for rotavirus include those who:

  • Are age 65 and older.
  • Care for children who have rotavirus.
  • Have compromised immune systems.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is rotavirus diagnosed?

If your child has signs of rotavirus, contact their healthcare provider. Providers can often diagnose rotavirus based on symptoms and a physical examination. In some cases, they may take a stool (poop) sample to test it for rotavirus. But this step usually isn’t necessary.

If you do need to take a stool sample, your child’s provider will give you a sterile (germ-free) container. You collect some of your child’s stool in the container. A lab analyzes the stool for rotavirus.

Management and Treatment

Is there a medicine for rotavirus?

A virus causes rotavirus, not bacteria. So antibiotics won’t help your child feel better. The virus should clear on its own after about a week. The main rotavirus treatment is to keep your child hydrated.

Can rotavirus be treated at home?

Yes. Contact your child’s healthcare provider if you notice rotavirus symptoms. They may recommend you:

  • Give your child smaller, more frequent feedings instead of larger meals.
  • Make sure your child gets enough fluids.
  • Use an electrolyte replacement such as Pedialyte®. Electrolytes help keep body systems in balance, but you can lose them through vomiting and diarrhea. Replacements can fix that. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the label carefully.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to lower a fever. Don’t give your child aspirin.
  • Wash your hands after changing diapers or touching stool.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Keep your child home instead of going to daycare/school.
  • Follow up with your healthcare provider as necessary.



How can I prevent rotavirus?

The best way to prevent rotavirus and protect the health of your family is to make sure they get one of the rotavirus vaccines.

About 70% of children who receive the vaccine don’t get rotavirus. For those who still get infected, the symptoms are much milder. Put another way, 90% of vaccinated children either get protected from severe rotavirus or avoid the disease altogether.

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about which rotavirus vaccine your child should get. Healthcare providers don’t give the vaccines as shots. Instead, they puts drops in your baby’s mouth over a series of visits, based on age. Options and vaccination schedules include:

  • RotaTeq: Providers give RotaTeq in three doses — at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months.
  • Rotarix: Providers give Rotarix in two doses — at 2 months and 4 months.

Is the rotavirus vaccine safe?

Scientists have tested both rotavirus vaccines extensively in thousands of babies. They consider both vaccines safe and effective. They protect many children from getting rotavirus. And even if a child does get the virus, the illness will be less severe if they got the vaccination.

There are very few side effects from the vaccine. If your child does experience side effects, such as temporary diarrhea or vomiting, the reactions usually go away on their own. If your child has a medical condition, talk to their healthcare provider about your child’s vaccination schedule.

What else can I do to protect against rotavirus?

The vaccine is your best defense against the disease. It’s also crucial to practice good hand washing. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds:

  • After using the bathroom.
  • After changing a diaper or helping a child use the bathroom.
  • Before preparing food.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the outlook for children with rotavirus?

Most children recover from rotavirus without long-term health effects. Symptoms last about a week.

If your child becomes dehydrated, it could lead to serious complications and even death. Call your healthcare provider right away if your child shows symptoms of rotavirus. Your provider can help you prevent dehydration.

Also, make sure to follow your child’s immunization schedule. The rotavirus vaccine is the best way to protect your child’s health.

Can my child get rotavirus again?

Children can get re-infected. However, a second infection tends to be milder.

How long does rotavirus last?

Symptoms of rotavirus usually last from three to eight days. Most children are contagious for around 12 days in total. That’s because infection starts a few days before symptoms do.

When can my child return to school or daycare?

Your school or daycare will probably let you know how long to keep your child home. Usually, the requirement is that children have no symptoms for at least 24 hours before returning to these settings.

Living With

When should my child see their healthcare provider?

Call your child’s provider if you notice an increase in vomiting or diarrhea. Also contact their provider if you see signs of dehydration, which may happen because of vomiting and diarrhea:

  • No wet diapers for more than eight hours.
  • Pale skin.
  • Dry lips.
  • Sunken eyes.

Children can dehydrate very quickly. This change can lead to serious complications and even death. Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if you notice signs of dehydration.

What questions should I ask my child’s healthcare provider?

If your child has rotavirus, ask their provider about:


  • Which over-the-counter medications do you recommend to reduce fever? Are there any I shouldn’t use?
  • How long should I give my child the medication?
  • What time of day is best for the medication?
  • How should I store the medication?

Food, drink and follow-up care

  • What symptoms require immediate attention?
  • Are certain foods or liquids more helpful? Are there any my child should avoid?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or daycare?
  • Are there activities my child shouldn’t do?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • When should I bring my child back for a follow-up visit?

Additional Common Questions

Rotavirus vs. norovirus — what’s the difference?

Rotavirus and norovirus are both gastrointestinal infections that cause inflammation of your stomach and intestines, but they’re different conditions caused by different viruses. Rotavirus mostly affects children, while norovirus can affect people of any age. The symptoms of norovirus tend to pass quicker (between one and three days) than rotavirus, which lasts between three and eight days. In addition, there’s a vaccine available to protect against rotavirus, but there’s no vaccine available for norovirus yet.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If your child has severe diarrhea and vomiting, they may have a common childhood infection called rotavirus. Call your child’s healthcare provider for advice. They’ll probably recommend plenty of fluids and rest, as well as medicine to reduce fever. But the virus will have to pass on its own — there’s no medicine for rotavirus. If there’s a risk of dehydration, their provider may recommend bringing your child to the hospital for IV fluids. But most children recover from rotavirus with no long-term health effects.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/01/2023.

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