Rotavirus Infection – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Rotavirus Infection

Rotavirus infection is a highly contagious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of five . Rotaviruses cause diarrheal diseases , which are both very mild and can cause serious complications. Rotavirus infections are notifiable in Germany.

What is rotavirus infection?

Rotavirus infection is caused by something called rotavirus. The name “Rota” comes from the appearance of the viruses, because they are round like a wheel (lat. rota = the wheel). Rotavirus infection is one of the gastrointestinal diseases.

The viruses can cause severe diarrhea with high fluid loss. This can lead to dangerous conditions, especially in infants and small children. In third world countries, rotavirus infections are often fatal. Of the 100 million children who fall ill in these countries every year, at least 600,000 are believed to die.

However, adults can also be affected by rotavirus infections. Infection often occurs through infected children. The disease is particularly dangerous for older people and rotavirus infections are very much a concern in retirement homes. Just like in children, the disease can cause complications and be fatal in old and weak people due to the high loss of fluids.


The cause of rotavirus infection are highly infectious viruses. Even a small amount of these rotaviruses is enough to trigger a disease. If they have infested a body, they settle in the folds of the mucous membrane of the small intestine and multiply there. A short time later the diarrhea begins.

The viruses are excreted by sick people via the intestines. There are billions of viruses in every stool of infected patients. The pathogens are so highly contagious that they can survive for a very long time even without a host. They hang on toilets, sinks and doorknobs, on toys and dishes, but also on the hands of sick people and are passed on in this way. One speaks here of smear infection .

The pathogen can also be transmitted via drinking water and food or via the water in swimming pools. If the disease has broken out in an institution such as a kindergarten or a nursing home, it is extremely difficult to prevent the infection among people.

There are also different types of rotavirus, five different types occur in Europe. Once you get rotavirus infection, your immunity is short-lived and only against the one type that infected you.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Rotavirus infection is the most common diarrheal disease seen in children worldwide. Rotavirus is particularly dangerous for babies and young children. In Germany, however, there are hardly any deaths associated with the disease. The highly contagious virus spreads particularly in the winter months.

After an infection, it takes about three days for the typical symptoms to appear. In addition to severe diarrhea and vomiting , fever also occurs. In adults, the disease is comparatively harmless. The infection initially manifests itself as mild and watery diarrhea. However, the symptoms are getting worse and worse.

Severe stomach pain is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Children often have a high fever. Patients lose their appetite and ingested food is vomited up again. Rapid dehydration occurs, especially in small children . A lot of fluid is lost, especially due to the high fever.

Some of those affected also complain of symptoms that make one think of flu. The rotavirus infection can be accompanied by coughing or aching limbs . Symptoms subside after about five days. The virus remains highly contagious for up to ten days after infection and is excreted in the stool.

Diagnosis & History

rotavirus infection can take very different courses. Debilitated people, the elderly or young children often show more severe symptoms than older children or young adults. The disease usually begins with diarrhea that quickly becomes watery. There is also nausea, vomiting, cramping abdominal pain and fever.

Some patients have difficulty breathing. If those affected lose too much fluid through the watery diarrhea, there is an acute risk of dehydration. The first signs of such extreme dehydration in the body are headaches , great thirst , dry mouth and parched mucous membranes. Patients have little or no urine to urinate.

There may be some confusion about this . A suspicion of the diagnosis rotavirus infection does not arise from the nature of the symptoms alone, since they are similar to those of a harmless intestinal infection. However, if a large number of people typically become ill at the same time and the courses are more severe, a suspicion of rotavirus infection will quickly arise. However, only a stool test in the laboratory can provide ultimate certainty.


Rotavirus infection is often associated with a high fever. If the body temperature rises to more than 41° Celsius, this can result in life-threatening complications. This often leads to circulatory problems, for example, and ultimately to circulatory collapse, which must be treated in the hospital in any case. The lack of fluids as a result of diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration and thus to physical and mental deficits.

There is a risk of death for children, the elderly and the sick. In infants, diarrhea associated with rotavirus infection requires immediate medical attention because the loss of fluid quickly leads to dehydration. Treating rotavirus infection can also cause complications. An infusion carries the risk of an allergic reaction or allergic shock .

When creating the access, injuries can occur that can become infected and, in the worst case, cause sepsis. If the port slips, the infusion can leak into the surrounding tissue and potentially cause severe soft tissue damage. Edema or thrombosis cannot be ruled out either. Finally, the prescribed painkillers and fever-reducing preparations can trigger a number of side effects and interactions as well as allergic reactions.

When should you go to the doctor?

Rotavirus infection must always be treated by a doctor. This disease can lead to various complications, which in the worst case can reduce the life expectancy of the person affected. For this reason, treatment by a doctor is essential and should be carried out immediately at the first sign of infection. A doctor should be consulted if the child suddenly suffers from very severe diarrhea. It also causes vomiting and a very high fever. In most cases, the affected children also suffer from severe pain in the stomach and nausea.

It is also very difficult for the child to eat. If these symptoms occur, a doctor must be consulted. In most cases, rotavirus infection can be evaluated and treated by a pediatrician or general practitioner . With an early diagnosis, there are no complications and usually a positive course of the disease. In the case of acute complaints, the hospital can also be visited directly.

Treatment & Therapy

Targeted treatment of rotavirus infection is not possible. To date, there is no drug that can kill rotavirus. The treatment consists of relieving the symptoms. Compensating for the lack of fluids in the body is particularly important.

Smaller children and older, weakened people are usually admitted as inpatients. You will be given fluids via an IV . For normally healthy adults, frequent drinking is often sufficient. Unless they are afflicted with very severe nausea and vomiting that they cannot keep down the water they drink. Then an infusion will also provide fluid intake. The infusions contain mineral salts that are important for the body and that were excreted by the diarrhea and are now missing.

If the disease is milder, no further measures are necessary. Babies can continue to be breastfed, small children and adults should drink plenty of water or herbal teas. Sugary drinks should be avoided during rotavirus infection. Stomach pain can be relieved with gentle massage and by placing a hot water bottle on top.


Pronounced hygiene measures help against rotavirus infection best . Frequent hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before eating, is important. Bathrooms and toilets should also be cleaned sufficiently. In the meantime, a vaccine has also been developed that can be used in babies as young as six weeks.


A rotavirus infection not only weakens the gastrointestinal tract, but the entire organism. Targeted aftercare can sustainably support the regeneration of the body. Ideally, this should be discussed with your family doctor or internist. The cooperation of the patient is of crucial importance. The greatest possible protection is just as important in aftercare as a certain nutritional discipline.

The weakened body can recover particularly well with sufficient sleep. Stress, both private and professional, should be avoided as much as possible during aftercare. In addition, there is a sufficient amount to drink, which supports the gastrointestinal tract, circulation and metabolism in equal measure. Carbon dioxide, acid (e.g. in orange juice), coffee and of course alcohol should ideally be avoided here.

The diet should not put additional strain on the intestines, which are weakened by the disease. It is best to eliminate fat and bloating from the aftercare phase. Probiotics and yoghurt are often useful because they help to rebuild the intestinal flora, which can be disturbed by the disease. Fruits and vegetables, as long as they don’t cause gas or irritation, are also helpful.

They replace vitamins, minerals and trace elements that have been washed out of the body by the diarrhea associated with rotavirus infection. Physical activity, such as going for a walk, can boost circulation that has been weakened by dehydration, but should be done in moderation, especially at the beginning.

You can do that yourself

The rotavirus infection can be alleviated by self-help in its symptoms, but requires treatment by the doctor if the patient is pregnant, elderly or small children, or if the loss of fluid leads to severe circulatory problems. Self-help in everyday life with rotavirus infection essentially means alleviating the symptoms, since the disease is usually over after two days anyway if the course is normal.

Diarrhea and vomiting are amenable to self-help by consistently compensating for the fluid loss they cause. Still water and unsweetened herbal teas are ideal drinks in this context. In addition, a hot -water bottle or a hot towel on the stomach can bring relief against abdominal cramps . Drugs against diarrhea are not optimal, since diarrhea is a measure taken by the body to flush the infectious germs out of the intestines as quickly as possible. Light foods such as mashed potatoes are foods that are most likely to be tolerated after a possible food hiatus.

Self-help in the everyday life of a family also means protecting the other family members, since the rotavirus is a highly contagious germ. Disinfecting the shared toilet after using the toilet is strongly recommended. Washing hands around the toilet is mandatory when infected with the rotavirus, since the risk of infection with this disease is very high and hygiene is therefore very important.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.