Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhoea in children. Children below the age of five are most at risk of rotavirus infection.
The virus spreads rapidly by the fecal-oral route. This means that it is spread in the poo of an infected person. Young children are particularly susceptible because they put so many things in their mouths. Contaminated water, food, toys and surfaces are the most common ways that children are exposed to the virus.
The main symptoms of rotavirus are watery diarrhoea, projectile vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. Vomiting and diarrhoea can last from 3 to 8 days.
Dehydration (loss of body fluid) can be fatal for small children; there is no cure for the infection but the symptoms can be treated by rehydration therapies (giving adequate fluid). Of 1,000 children with a rotavirus infection, 3 will be admitted to hospital for treatment.
If treated quickly and properly rotavirus is generally not fatal to children, but in developing countries it kills more than 500,000 infants every year.