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Symptoms and Signs of Rotavirus Infection

Doctor's Notes on Rotavirus Infection

Rotavirus infection is the number one cause of severe viral gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) in the world. Infectious gastroenteritis may be caused either by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. There are four viral families that cause most cases of gastroenteritis. Rotavirus is responsible for the large majority of gastroenteritis illness. After rotavirus, the norovirus is responsible for about one-third of all viral illnesses causing vomiting and diarrhea. Two other types of viruses (adenovirus and astrovirus) each cause a low percentage of intestinal disease. Primary rotavirus infection is very common in children 6 months to 2 years of age.

Symptoms of rotavirus infection include fever, vomiting, and non-bloody diarrhea. In some cases children may have respiratory symptoms (runny nose and cough). Complications of rotavirus infection are rare.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Rotavirus Infection Symptoms

While children are the predominant victims of rotavirus infection, adults (often caretakers or parents of these children) may experience the same symptoms of fever, vomiting, and non-bloody diarrhea. Studies have shown a broad range of response to rotavirus infection -- all the way from total lack of symptoms to severe illness that may be associated with dehydration and circulatory collapse. Hospitalized patients often have a total duration of disease averaging eight days. As would be expected, those who are less ill and remain at home tend to have less intense symptoms and generally recover more quickly. Some studies of children with rotavirus infection have pointed out that children may have respiratory symptoms (runny nose and cough) coexistent with their intestinal manifestations. Other researchers counter that an alternative interpretation of these findings implies two separate but simultaneous illnesses. Adults tend not to experience respiratory symptoms during a rotavirus illness.

Complications of rotavirus infection are relatively rare. Important exceptions are those infections in people with weakened immune systems (premature and newborn infants or the elderly). When access to modern medical supportive care is available (for example, IV solutions) severe morbidity and death are rare. However in developing nations, where such services are scarce or unavailable, rotavirus infection may be life-threatening.

Rotavirus Infection Causes

Infectious gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) may be caused (in order of frequency) either by viral, bacterial, or fungal agents. There are four viral families that cause the bulk of gastroenteritis. As stated above, rotavirus is responsible for the large majority of illness both worldwide and in the United States. Infection by the norovirus family is implicated in approximately one-third of all viral illnesses causing vomiting and diarrhea. Two other viral families (adenovirus and astrovirus) each cause a low percentage of intestinal disease.

Viral Infection Types, Treatment, and Prevention Slideshow

Viral Infection Types, Treatment, and Prevention Slideshow

Viruses are small particles of genetic material (either DNA or RNA) that are surrounded by a protein coat. Some viruses also have a fatty "envelope" covering. They are incapable of reproducing on their own. Viruses depend on the organisms they infect (hosts) for their very survival. Viruses get a bad rap, but they also perform many important functions for humans, plants, animals, and the environment. For example, some viruses protect the host against other infections. Viruses also participate in the process of evolution by transferring genes among different species. In biomedical research, scientists use viruses to insert new genes into cells.

When most people hear the word "virus," they think of disease-causing (pathogenic) viruses such as the common cold, influenza, chickenpox, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and others. Viruses can affect many areas in the body, including the reproductive, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. They can also affect the liver, brain, and skin. Research reveals that that viruses are implicated in many cancers as well.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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