Rotavirus

90% of New Zealand children will develop rotavirus gastroenteritis by the age of 3 years.

Summary

Rotavirus is a highly infectious virus of the gut. It can range from a short period of mild, watery diarrhoea to severe, dehydrating diarrhoea with vomiting, fever and shock.

If you think your child has rotavirus, this can only be confirmed by laboratory testing.

How it is spread

The virus is spread by contact with the faeces (poos) of an infected person. This can happen if people don’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet or changing nappies.

If a person has been infected by rotavirus symptoms will develop within 1–2 days.

Stop rotavirus spreading

Careful handwashing is important to stop the spread of rotavirus. Be aware that the virus can survive outside the body, so that hard surfaces, toys, utensils and other objects can become contaminated.

If your child has rotavirus, they should be kept home from school or early childhood services until they are well and for 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting. This will help prevent the spread of rotavirus in your community.


Related websites

Kidshealth
Developed by the Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand.

Immunisation Advisory Centre
Independent information on the immunisations available in New Zealand.

Symptoms

If your child has rotavirus, the symptoms are:

  • sudden onset of vomiting and watery diarrhoea which can last from 3–8 days
  • fever
  • abdominal pain.

Rotavirus can lead to severe dehydration that can be fatal if not treated.

Adults can catch rotavirus, but most will have no symptoms.

Treatment

If your child has rotavirus, the most important thing to do is prevent dehydration. The pages on Diarrhoea and Vomiting have information on keeping your child hydrated.

For more information and when to see a doctor, visit the page on Viral gastroenteritis on the Kidshealth website.

Prevention

Getting immunised

Rotavirus vaccine is an oral (taken by mouth) vaccine available free in New Zealand for babies at their 6 week, 3 month and 5 month immunisations.

The first dose of three must be received before 15 weeks of age.

Making a decision about immunisation

Risks associated with rotavirus

  • Children may become dehydrated from diarrhoea and require hospital admission. In less developed countries children may die from rotavirus infection. This is extremely rare in New Zealand.

Risks associated with the vaccine

  • Ongoing monitoring in other countries indicates that there may be a small risk of intussusception (a type of bowel blockage) from rotavirus vaccination in the first 7–10 days after the initial dose. Intussusception is rare, and can be treated.

Immunisation is your choice. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or practice nurse or call the Immunisation Advisory Centre free helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).

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