Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children. It is highly contagious. Almost all children get infected by the age of 5. Your baby can catch rotavirus at any time of year, but it is most common from November to May. A child usually picks up this virus by putting her fingers in her mouth after touching something contaminated with the stool of an infected person.

The child may develop watery diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. Nausea and fever usually go away in about two days, but diarrhea can last up to eight days. Antibiotics do not work against rotavirus infection.

The main concern with rotavirus is preventing dehydration. Dehydration is a large loss of water from body tissues. It can occur when a person loses lots of fluid from diarrhea.

A child can get rotavirus infection more than once. But repeat bouts of the illness tend to be milder than the first.

Call your baby's health care provider right away if the baby:

  • Has watery diarrhea
  • Has nausea and vomiting
  • Develops any fever of more than 100.4° F in the first 3 months of life, 101° F or greater between 3 and 6 months, or 103° F after 6 months of age

Follow the provider's instructions about what your child should eat and drink. The provider probably will advise you to give your child a solution to replace the salts and water that are lost with diarrhea. Common ones include Pedialyte, Infalyte and ReVital.

Call your provider immediately or take your baby to the emergency room if she has any signs of dehydration including:

  • No wet diapers for several hours
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of tears when crying
  • Increased thirst
  • Sunken soft spot on top of the head or sunken eyes
  • Irritability or lethargy

Some children who become dehydrated need to have fluids replaced through a vein (intravenously) in the hospital.

Teach your child to wash her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before eating. This may help prevent rotavirus and other infections that can cause diarrhea. Make sure everyone who touches your baby has washed his or her hands.

Vaccine for Rotavirus

The rotavirus vaccine helps protect your baby from rotavirus. The vaccine is part of your baby’s vaccination schedule. It’s important that your child gets her vaccinations to protect her own health and so she doesn’t spread diseases to others. 

Last reviewed: November, 2013