Rotavirus a Likely Suspect in Diarrhea

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), April 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Rotavirus a Likely Suspect in Diarrhea


Byline: YOUR HEALTH By Todd Huffman For The Register-Guard

Cases of diarrhea? Three million annually. Doctor visits? 400,000. Emergency room visits? More than 200,000. Hospitalizations? Almost 60,000. Deaths annually worldwide? More than 600,000.

While most parents are not as familiar with the name rotavirus as they are with other viruses, such as the influenza viruses and the viruses that cause the common cold, rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in babies and children.

The virus infects almost 100 percent of children in the United States before the age of 5, and between 20 and 60 youngsters die from it every year. In developing countries, that number is much higher, making it a leading cause of childhood death worldwide.

Vomiting, fever and dehydration often accompany a rotavirus infection. The diarrhea can be so profuse as to quickly lead to dehydration, sometimes necessitating hospitalization.

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure or treatment for the infection. Instead, treatments are targeted at preventing and treating dehydration.

Rotavirus outbreaks are usually seen between November and June, peaking in April and May. Children usually develop symptoms about one to three days after being exposed to someone else who is sick with rotavirus. It is the most common cause of outbreaks of diarrhea in day care centers.

Infection usually starts with a fever, upset stomach and vomiting, followed by frequent, watery and usually green diarrhea, rarely with blood or mucous. Although the fever and vomiting typically last only a few days, the diarrhea often can last between three and 10 days longer.

Sometimes, the diarrhea that accompanies a rotavirus infection gets so severe that it can quickly lead to dehydration. Signs of dehydration include thirst, irritability, restlessness, lethargy, sunken eyes, a dry mouth and tongue, fewer trips to the bathroom to urinate, and, in infants, a dry diaper for more than 6 hours.

Rotavirus isn't the only virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting in children. The norovirus, Norwalk virus, adenovirus and many others can also cause gastroenteritis - an infection of the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria and parasites also can cause gastroenteritis.

Rotavirus infection is unique among causes of gastroenteritis in that the diarrhea can last for much longer than most other viruses. And whereas most gastrointestinal infections cause vomiting for just the first 6 to 12 hours of the illness, with a rotavirus infection vomiting can come and go over a period of days.

Rotavirus is more likely than others to lead to moderate or severe dehydration, especially in young children.

Once a child is exposed, symptoms may not appear for a couple of days. During this time, children often pass the virus along to others.

Once infected, a child will shed large amounts of rotavirus in the stool. As a result, the virus spreads easily on hands and surfaces.

Rotavirus is also unique in that it can last on hard surfaces for many days. Other viruses die pretty quickly. Leaky diapers, infected toys and caregivers who do not wash their hands frequently and well enough - especially after diaper changes - are responsible for the spread of rotavirus. …

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