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Recognizing rotavirus

If your baby or preschooler has severe diarrhea, rotavirus is the likely culprit. It’s the top cause of diarrhea in infants and young children. Experts estimate that nearly every child gets rotavirus by age 5.

It’s spread by contamination, usually when someone comes in contact with infected stool and doesn’t wash his or her hands. Kids often get the disease by putting their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated items. Typically, the illness lasts three to eight days, and the diarrhea is accompanied by fever, upset stomach, vomiting and dehydration. Signs of dehydration include thirst, irritability, a dry mouth and less frequent urination.

Your pediatrician may test your child’s stool to confirm rotavirus. Many cases can be treated at home. Your doctor will likely recommend special rehydrating drinks that contain a proper balance of sugar, minerals and water. If your child has a severe case, he or she may need to visit the ER for intravenous fluids. Antibiotics aren’t needed, since they can’t treat viruses.

Protect against rotavirus

  • Vaccinate. It’s the best way to keep rotavirus at bay. The vaccine prevents about 75 percent of all infections, including 98 percent of severe infections. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three doses of the immunization during infancy.
  • Handle diapers properly. Throw away used diapers in a receptacle that your kids can’t access.
  • Wash hands thoroughly. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before eating. Wet your hands with warm water, then add soap. Lather for 10 to 20 seconds, rinse, then dry thoroughly. No running water available? Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep a clean house. Sanitize your child’s play areas and diaper-changing areas regularly to keep the virus at bay.