What is Rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a viral infection of the intestines that can causes gastroenteritis which often results in symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting. It predominantly affects infants and very small children. There is a risk of dehydration in a child with rotavirus infection, so it is important to ensure that lots of fluids are drunk. The disease occasionally spreads to adults, but it is usually mild and may not be detected.

How is it spread?

Rotavirus present in the intestines of an infected individual can pass out in their stools and is often present on the individual’s hands after they have been to the toilet. Surfaces or objects touched by the infected individual can spread rapidly as also if the infected individual handles or prepares food. If a child has the virus, the infection may spread when the nappy is changed.


It usually takes about 48hours after first contact with rotavirus before symptoms develop. Symptoms include vomiting, high temperature and watery diarrhoea which can range from mild to severe and often accompanied by uncomfortable stomach cramps. Most symptoms clear within 3 days although sometimes they may last for up to 9 days. There is the risk of becoming dehydrated if the episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea persist.

Mild dehydration is common and is easily and quickly treated by drinking lots of fluids. Severe dehydration can be fatal unless promptly treated . This is especially important if the child has passed six or more very loose stools (faeces) or vomited 3 or more times in the preceding 24hours.

Symptoms of dehydration in children include passing little urine, a dry mouth, tongue and lips, fewer tears when crying, sunken eyes, weakness, being irritable or having no energy.

Symptoms of severe dehydration in children include drowsiness, pale or mottled skin, cold hands or feet, dry nappies and fast (often shallow) breathing.

Please consult a doctor quickly if you suspect that you or the affected individual is becoming dehydrated

Controlling the spread of Infection

Good hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of infection. Washing hands regularly and properly is the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of rotavirus and other intestinal infections. Wash your hands properly with soap and water and dry them thoroughly:

  • after using the toilet, changing a nappy
  • after handling a potty (use disposable gloves, if possible) and make sure to wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap and let it air-dry
  • before preparing, serving or eating food

Useful Precautions

  • Clean and disinfect toilets regularly and wipe all surfaces including taps and handles, preferably with a disposable cloth
  • Do not share towels or flannels
  • If clothing or bedding is soiled, dispose of any remaining stools (faeces)into the toilet and wash the item in a separate wash at high temperature
  • Do not handle or help prepare food for others
  • Stay away from work, school or college for at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Avoid contact with other people as far as possible during this time.


The rotavirus vaccination which is part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule is an effective way to protect babies from becoming infected with the virus.


There is no specific medication to treat rotavirus. However, it is important that your child has plenty of fluids and is kept well hydrated. In very severe cases, admission to hospital may become necessary.

For further information, contact the Infection Prevention and Control Department at St Bernard’s Hospital
Telephone: 20072266 Ext 2315