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Rotavirus: The wheels on this virus go round and round

Dr. Deb Winburn, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics, sums up this viral gastroenteritis in an interview regarding a disease which surely will hit the KC Metro this winter. Here’s a heads up for parents: Get your children immunized against this nasty bug before the season arrives!


Q: How is rotavirus commonly passed from child to child?
A: Rotavirus is highly contagious and is passed via the fecal-oral route from child to child. Even with good hygiene, rota can live on the hands of providers (childcare or otherwise) for several hours. It can live on surfaces for more than a day. There are lesser amounts of rotavirus in saliva and other body fluids.


Q: What are the most serious symptoms which can arise from rotavirus?
A: Rotavirus lasts from 3-9 days. It causes profuse watery stools, fever and sometimes vomiting. Its most severe symptom is dehydration, resulting in hospitalization for IV fluids. The biggest season in the Midwest is from February to May. Infection unfortunately results in INCOMPLETE immunity; therefore, most children experience several infections with rotavirus before their 3rd birthdays. Adults can get rota too, but usually have less chance of severe dehydration.


Q: So unlike contracting chickenpox, getting rotavirus once doesn’t mean you can’t catch the virus again. So is there a vaccine that can prevent children from contracting this virus?
The latest rotavirus vaccines are oral. They are safe and easy to use. They result in 74 percent reduction in rotavirus infection, 98 reduction in severe rotavirus symptoms and a 96 percent reduction in hospitalization due to rotaviral dehydration. Rotavirus can be a deadly infection. Worldwide, there are an estimated 600,000 children who die as a result of rotavirus yearly. In the United States, around 100 deaths per year are attributed to rotaviral infection and its complications.


How does rotavirus spread?

  • dirty hands
  • contaminated food or water
  • direct contact with fecal matter (e.g., from dirty diapers or toilets)
  • Surfaces which become contaminated with the diarrheal virus, such as toys, restroom surfaces, changing tables or the hands of a person preparing food can be a direct source of disease transmission.

According to, “Hand washing is the most effective way to prevent diarrheal infections.” It is imperative all caregivers wash kids’ and their hands well and often, especially before meals and after restroom visits.


Stacey Hatton is a pediatric RN and freelance writer, when she isn’t driving around town singing in the minivan with her girls.

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