Does your child complain of stomach aches? Does she experience frequent diarrhea? She might have rotavirus, especially if she’s between 4 and 36 months old (when kids are most at risk).
Rotavirus is a very dangerous and common disease–and yet, because its symptoms are so subtle (and mimic a stomach flu) it’s often undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late. Learn more about this disease so you can protect your child.
1. What is rotavirus?
Rotavirus gastroenteritis affects 95% of all children under five years of age. It’s the most common cause of dehydrating diarrhea, which requires hospitalization. It’s also contagious, and can be transmitted no matter how clean our home, food and water are. Even washing hands or other traditional hygiene measures can’t kill the virus, and it can’t be treated by antibiotics.
2. How is the rotavirus spread?
The common culprit is fecal-oral transmission—and you’d be surprised how often that happens. You can touch a bottle after changing a diaper, or your child can chew a rattle that’s touch an infected bedsheet. The virus can survive exposure to air, and remains ‘active’ on hands, hard surfaces and water for long periods of time.
3. What are the symptoms of rotavirus?
Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and watery diarrhea (can be light, moderate or serious and can last for nine days). The primary danger is dehydration, which can be fatal. Watch for signs like irritability, loss of appetite and dry mouth. Go to the doctor if she hasn’t retained any liquids for more than 24 hours, or has vomited repeatedly for more than 3 hours.
4. Why is rotavirus so dangerous?
Dehydration can be one of the most significant complications for infected children. It’s time to go to the doctor when she can’t retain liquids more than 24 hours, and has vomited repeatedly for more than three hours. She may need to be rehydrated via IV.
Left untreated, dehydration can lead to hypovolemia (a disorder in which the volume of circulating blood decreases), kidney damage and circulatory collapse which can even lead to death. So, never give diarrhea medication unless advised by a physician; just continue to give your child lots of liquids and observe if it’s a symptom of something more serious.
5. How can I protect my child from rotavirus?
Luckily, rotavirus vaccines have been developed (ask your pediatrician about the newly-approved rotavirus pentavalent oral vaccine), but your vigilance is still the best protection. Watch for symptoms, and if anyone in your household or your child’s school has been infected, take extra precautions.