Rotavirus is a virus that causes vomiting, fever and severe diarrhea, symptoms commonly known as stomach flu. The virus is transmitted from the feces to the mouth and it usually takes two days before the symptoms develop. These symptoms occur because the virus damages the cells lining the small intestine. It is the most common cause of diarrhea in children and almost 500,000 children under 5 die from the condition each year. There are 5 species of the virus and it is estimated that almost every child in the world has been infected with one of these strains by the time they are 5 years old. After infection the body develops immunity and any further infections are not usually severe. Let’s find out how this potentially life threatening virus is treated.
Prevention of rotavirus
The most important method of preventing rotavirus is vaccination. A vaccine against rotavirus A (the most common form) is available and is commonly given to infants during their first year of life. It is included on the recommended vaccination schedule in many countries. Although this vaccination is fairly new, studies have already shown that it is effective against the virus and reduces deaths associated with the disease in both developed and developing countries.
Vaccination is not effective if a person has already been infected. In these cases there is no cure for the virus and it is left to run its course. Instead, the symptoms are managed with fluid replacement (adequate hydration), pain/fever relief and bed rest. Keeping the patient hydrated is most important, because most deaths from the disease come from dehydration caused from the fluid loss caused by vomiting and diarrhea. In some severe cases hospitalization is required and fluids are given intravenously until the patient recovers.
Did you know?
Rotavirus was discovered in 1973 and the first vaccine was developed in 1998. Unfortunately this vaccine was removed from sale just a year later because it was found to increase the risk of intussusception (part of the intestine folds inwards into another section). However, the current vaccines have been shown to be safe.