The Facts about Rotavirus
Children under 2 years old are susceptible to a range of infections and nasties due to their developing immune systems, and rotavirus ranks up there as one of the most common. Rotavirus is essentially a highly infectious form of gastroenteritis and before the vaccine was introduced in 2007 it affected almost every child under the age of
5. The virus remains the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis around the world and is still a common cause of hospitalisation for children under 2 years old in Australia.
How is rotavirus contracted?
Rotavirus is a hardy virus that can survive on our skin for several hours and even longer on surfaces, making it very easy to spread and contract. The virus can be passed on through the stools of infected people/children, which is why day care centres, family homes and homes for the elderly are the most common places to contract the infection. So, for example, if a carer changes an infected baby’s nappy and doesn’t wash their hands properly after doing so, they can spread the virus.
It is also an easy infection to spread as it can be passed on via any infected surface that makes a pathway to the mouth (so in children under 2 years old this would most likely be hands, food and any object they place in their mouths); through infected faeces making its way into water; and via respiratory droplets (for example, through coughing and sneezing). Aside from being highly infectious, a single person/child can be infected by the disease several times, though the first time is generally the most severe, as a natural immunity is built up.
Rotavirus is a hardy form of gastro with symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Nicole Thomas takes a look at what you can do to protect your child.
risk of infection, so if your child contracts rotavirus it doesn’t mean that hygiene standards are poor, and that children between 6 months and 2 years of age are the most prone. Routine hand-washing and cleanliness are important but they are not enough to stop the rotavirus infection, hence the introduction of the vaccine in babies.
The incubation period for rotavirus is 1 to 3 days, with it becoming contagious 2 days before the child develops diarrhea and up to 8 days after the diarrhea stops. The illness can occur abruptly and lasts for an average of anywhere between 3 to 7 days.
warning signs of rotavirus
Symptoms of rotavirus can vary from mild to severe and these include:
• Watery diarrhea of a finite timeframe for mild cases
• Diarrhea which results in dehydration, vomiting,
fever and shock in severe cases
• Runny nose and cough
• Sore stomach
• Loss of appetite.
One of the main things to look out for if your child has rotavirus is dehydration, as this can lead to hospitalisation and, if not treated in time, is potentially life threatening. In severe cases of rotavirus, the child will require intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, but in more mild cases, the best route to helping your child recover is by keeping them well hydrated until it has run its course. If you suspect your child may be suffering from dehydration, it is important to look out for the following signs – minimal urination/dry diapers, the production of few tears when crying, uncharacteristic
fussiness and/or lethargy.
How can rotavirus be treated?
The most important things you can do if your child has rotavirus is to provide plenty of fluids for your tot (continue to breastfeed if you are a nursing mum), allow them to get plenty of rest and ensure that if they display any symptoms of moderate to severe rotavirus, take them to your GP. You should also consult your doctor if your child refuses to drink/ breastfeed.
As with anything, prevention is the best method of attack and immunising your child is the recommended way to protect them against rotavirus. Even if a vaccinated child contracts rotavirus, they generally get a mild form of the virus.
other ways to help prevent the infection are:
• Washing hands thoroughly after changing a nappy, going to the toilet and before handling food
• Disposing of nappies and wipes thoughtfully
• Disinfecting the change table often
• Regularly washing and disinfecting shared toys and items
• Keeping sick babies and children at home from childcare for at least 24 hours after the diarrhea stops to prevent the spread
• Washing hands before touching food
• Keeping sick babies and children away from swimming pools for two weeks after the symptoms go
Rotavirus is a robust virus, but immunisation, good hygiene and rehydration are key players in keeping this nasty bug at bay.
[ it is also an easy infection to spread as it can be passed on via any infected surface that
makes a pathway to the mouth ]