Rotavirus is the major cause of diarrheal illness in young children worldwide and causes 10-20% of deaths due to gastroenteritis in developing countries.
This highly contagious virus almost always infects the children before their 5th birthday. The most common symptoms associated with this infection includes, severe diarrhea, fever and vomiting.
The rotavirus is a member of the Reoviridae family of viruses and contains double-stranded RNA enclosed by a double-shelled outer layer (capsid). Infection with different strains of the virus is possible, so it is common to have several separate rotavirus infections in childhood.
Rotavirus infects the bowels, causing severe inflammation of the stomach and bowels (gastroenteritis). It is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children throughout the world and results in death of about 500,000 children worldwide annually. The name rotavirus comes from the characteristic wheel-like appearance of the virus when viewed by electron microscopy (the name rotavirus is derived from the Latin rota, meaning “wheel”).
Since rotavirus infection is highly contagious, those who are around infected people are at high risk of infection. For this reason, children in group day-care settings are at risk. However, most children will become infected with rotavirus by 5 years of age.
Symptoms generally persist for three to nine days. Immunity from repeated infection is incomplete after a rotavirus infection, but repeated infections tend to be less severe than the original infection.
Parents should monitor their children and should also be aware of symptoms of dehydration.
The diagnosis of rotavirus may be made by rapid detection of rotavirus in stool specimens. Strains of rotavirus may be further characterized by special testing with enzyme immunoassay or polymerase chain reaction, but such testing is not commonly available or necessary.
There is no specific treatment for rotavirus. The symptomatic treatment consists of increased fluid intake (oral rehydration) to prevent dehydration.
Vaccination is the most effective preventive measure and is very effective in preventing severe rotavirus disease in young children and infants.
There are two rotavirus vaccines known as RotaTeq and Rotarix. Both are given orally and do not require an injection. The rotavirus vaccines are most effective if the first dose is given before age 15 weeks, and all doses should be complete by 8 months of age.
Side effects of the vaccine are very uncommon. As with all vaccines, rare allergic reactions may occur.
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