Rotavirus Causes Severe Diarrhea in Kids

January 2, 2019

The bottom line:
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide, especially in children under 2 years of age. The highly contagious viral infection attacks the stomach and intestines and leads to high fever, vomiting, and persistent diarrhea. Vaccination is the best way to prevent rotavirus in infants and young children.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide, especially in children under 2 years of age. The highly contagious illness is most common in the winter and spring months.

Rotavirus is a viral infection of the stomach and intestines that leads to high fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, and persistent diarrhea. It spreads easily among children (and sometimes to older children and adults around them) by coming into contact with an infected person’s stool, or poop.

Rotavirus is horrible,” said Ryan Van Ramshorst, MD, a pediatrician in San Antonio. “At its best, rotavirus causes the discomfort of severe diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. At its worst, rotavirus can lead to severe dehydration (lack of water in the body), sending kids to the hospital,” said the member of TMA’s Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel. “And children die around the world from rotavirus infection.”

U.S. children who attend child care centers or who are in settings with lots of young children are most at risk for rotavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most severe cases typically occur in children aged 3 months to 3 years.

Fortunately, the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Texas Medicine magazine reports, children can avoid this severe illness by getting vaccinated.

The introduction of a rotavirus vaccination in 2006 greatly reduced the number of cases in the United States. Before the vaccine, rotavirus sent more than 400,000 kids to the doctor, and 200,000 kids to emergency department each year, according to the CDC. And as many as 60 children under age 5 died every year.

No specific medication can treat rotavirus infection, said Dr. Van Ramshorst. “You can help prevent infection by washing your hands thoroughly,” he said, adding, “Vaccination is the best prevention.”

Two vaccines, given to children before their first birthday, protect against rotavirus, said Dr. Van Ramshorst. “Both vaccines are oral vaccines, given as drops in the mouth.” The rotavirus vaccine prevents the illness in most children (nine out of 10).

This release is part of a monthly TMA series highlighting contagious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. Diseases covered thus far are:

TMA designed the series to inform patients of the facts about these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness. Visit the TMA website to see efforts to raise immunization awareness and how funding is used to increase vaccination rates.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 52,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

Be Wise — ImmunizeSM is a joint initiative led by TMA physicians and medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded in 2019 by the TMA Foundation thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute, Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families.

Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.


TMA Contacts: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org

Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org

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Last Updated On

January 02, 2019