Rotavirus is considered as the leading cause of severe diarrhea among children globally. It is estimated that many children have or will become infected by 5 years of age. Remember that rotavirus is highly contagious and resistant to hygiene practices including hand washing. It is important that you are familiar with the symptoms of this infection and preventive measures to avoid acquiring the disease.
How rotavirus spreads
In most cases, person-to-person contact via the fecal-oral route is how the virus spreads. Take note that rotavirus present in the stools of infected individuals can easily contaminate hands and objects and passed on to family members and friends.
Rotavirus produces a toxin which alters the function of the intestines. This results to an increase in the fluid secretion and lactose intolerance.
Who are at risk?
Since rotavirus is highly contagious, anyone can get infected. Young children below 5 years old face the highest risk for severe dehydration which requires hospitalization and even lead to death in some circumstances. In addition, individuals who have weakened immune systems such as those who have HIV or the elderly are more likely to experience severe symptoms.
About 40-50% of hospitalizations for diarrhea are caused by rotavirus. In developing countries, rotavirus is responsible for causing thousands of deaths yearly among children below 5 years old.
The cases of infections are quite common between November and May which coincides with the time of year where children are in school and more likely to be in close contact with other children. Additionally, the virus is easily spread in close communities such as nursing homes and daycare centers.
What are the symptoms?
After two days following exposure to rotavirus, the symptoms usually start with upset stomach, mild fever, vomiting and then followed by diarrhea that lasts 3-8 days. The loss of fluids can eventually progress to dehydration.
How rotavirus infection is diagnosed
Rotavirus is usually diagnosed by identifying the virus present in the stool. The commonly used test is enzyme immunoassay which utilizes an antibody that binds specifically to the virus to detect its presence. Other tests carried out include the use of specialized microscopes, analysis of genetic material and protein analysis.
Take note that the infection can be self-limiting for healthy individuals. Just bear in mind though that the infections that lead to severe diarrhea would require hospitalization or even lead to death.
Treatment of rotavirus infection
Due to its self-limiting nature, the treatment for rotavirus infection involves oral rehydration therapy for those who are dehydrated from severe fluid loss from diarrhea. The oral rehydration therapy involves a mixture of water, salt and sugar.
In severe cases of dehydration, it is best to bring the individual to the emergency department so that IV fluids can be administered. If rotavirus infection is suspected, a doctor should be consulted.
It is sad to note that rotavirus could be easily prevented with good hygiene and sanitation. Luckily, there are already vaccines available to prevent the rotavirus infections.