Rotavirus (or “wheel” virus in Latin, after its microscopic appearance) is one of the most common viral infections among young children. Indeed, nearly all children are thought to have had the disease at least once by the time they are 5 years old.
Its signature symptom is severe diarrhea, often accompanied by fever and nausea – and it is often called “stomach flu” (though it is not related to the flu virus).
It is spread orally and via fecal matter, typically distributed via changing tables or poorly washed hands. Although it normally causes symptoms for 3-10 days, it can remain contagious for up to 12 days after the onset of diarrhea. As a result, it is often transmitted in child-care settings, when children return prematurely after experiencing a bout with the disease.
Dehydration is the primary danger that sufferers face; low energy, dry mouths, and sunken eyes are signs that dehydration is becoming severe. (In infants, sunken soft spots and dry diapers are also indicative.) In such cases, hospitalization is required, so that fluids can be administered intravenously. And it is imperative that help be sought immediately: in remote areas where proper treatment facilities are inaccessible (particularly in developing countries), rotavirus is a leading cause of mortality among children.
Fortunately, vaccines are now available which are already reducing incidences of rotavirus – and taking this wheel of ill-fortune off the road.