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Rotavirus infection in babies – causes, symptoms and treatments

If you thought that vaccination for rotavirus is just a fad and not a necessity, this article might make you think otherwise.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : September 26, 2014 10:38 AM IST

Rotavirus vaccination  Diarrhea among newborns and children below two years of age is very common. Most diarrheas that a baby suffers from are viral in nature and settle on their own. It is the body's way of eliminating certain offending agents from the system.

There can be various infections or viruses that can lead to diarrhea in babies. The most debilitating one among them is the rotavirus. This potent virus causes stomach infection that leads to diarrhea and erodes the health of the child. 'Diarrhea caused due to rotavirus affects mostly young children below two years of age. Infection due to this virus is severe in nature and also causes death in large numbers,' informs Dr Rohit Agarwal, past president of the Indian Association of Pediatrics attached to Chandrajoyti Children's Hospital, Mumbai.

Worldwide there are 2.75 lakh cases of diarrhea recorded in babies every year of which 1.25 lakh of them are due to rotavirus. 'About 40 percent of deaths occur globally due to the rotavirus infection and in India this virus alone is responsible for 11 percent infantile deaths due to diarrheal attack,' says Dr Rohit about the alarming statistics.

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Causes of rotavirus infection:

'Rotavirus is an airborne disease and it can affect almost all the sects of the society at large,' says Dr Agarwal. Infants and children below three years of age are mostly affected with this virus. Also this type of infection is highly contagious. So children staying at a cr che or baby care center are more susceptible to get one, if any other child is affected with the same. The virus doesn't necessarily spare the adults. But if an adult gets infected with this virus the severity is often less as compared to that in the children.

It is also possible that one gets infected with different strains of the virus. So if it's a rotavirus infection a child suffers from every now and then, it is quite possible that he is getting infected with different strains of the virus over a period of time. 'One thing with viral infections is that each time one gets infected one gains some immunity from it. The same happens with rotavirus too, but the mortality rates due to a rotavirus infection as compared to other viral infections is very high. Hence it is necessary to seek precaution from the rotavirus infection before it's too late,' informs Dr Agarwal. Also read how to decode your baby's motions.

Remember complete immunity from rotavirus infection while getting infected for the first time is not possible; however repeated attacks can make each episode less severe. But they can debilitate your child's health.

The virus usually spreads by the fecal-oral route, which means it is transmitted from the stools to the mouth of the child. This happens if the child is not washed properly after passing stools or touches an area which is contaminated with the virus and then puts it in the mouth. Rotavirus can remain in hard surfaces for days together and on surface of hands for hours at the end.

Signs and symptoms of rotavirus infection:

The virus usually affects the bowel pattern in children. The common symptoms of this viral attack are:

  • Frequent watery stools
  • Vomiting associated with diarrhea
  • Fever of high grade
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal cramps can also happen with watery diarrhea

Remember dehydration along with a rotavirus infection isn't a good sign. This could also increase the probability of death due to the viral infection. Look for the signs like extreme fatigue, dry mouth; extreme thirst that would point out that the infection is taking a dangerous turn. Also read 9 tips to prevent dehydration in the summer.

'Also the virus affects children who are malnourished and have lower immunity. In countries like Africa and India, its prevalence is more as compared to other parts of the world,' says Dr Agarwal.

Complications of rotavirus infections

If infected with rotavirus the child can stay affected for up to nine days till the virus leaves his systems. But rotavirus infection along with dehydration can lead to death in rare cases. Also a bout of rotavirus infection can rob the essential fluids in the system leading to dehydration. Hence proper fluid intake to treat the infection is necessary to limit its consequences. At times a child might have to be hospitalized to receive fluids intravenously to combat the attack of the virus in his systems.

Tests for rotavirus infections

The above mentioned signs and symptoms can make your paediatrician wary about your child's condition. A stool test can further confirm the presence of the viral strains in it.

Treatment for rotavirus infections

Despite the mortality due to rotavirus infection it is still preventable with vaccinations. 'Because the virus is so prevalent it is difficult to prevent its attack without being vaccinated. The efficacies of the vaccination can vary from country to country but it is still preventable with a simple oral vaccination. There is more research happening in the country to make a cheaper and effective form of the vaccination to make it available for all sects of the society,' says Dr Agarwal.

Prevention of rotavirus infecions

Proper hygiene and timely care can help one limit the severity of the viral attack, but a vaccination can be the safest way to prevent a bout of rotavirus infection. 'The vaccination can prevent the infection attack to an extent of 98 percent in children and is the best way to garner prevention for the same,' says Dr Agarwal.

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